“Freedom”- a poem by Jayant Mohapatra

At times, as I watch,
it seems as though my country’s body
floats down somewhere on the river.

Left alone, I grow into
a half-disembodied bamboo,
its lower part sunk
into itself on the bank.

Here, old widows and dying men
cherish their freedom,
bowing time after time in obstinate prayers.

While children scream
with this desire for freedom
to transform the world
without even laying hands on it.

In my blindness, at times I fear
I’d wander back to either of them.
In order for me not to lose face,
it is necessary for me to be alone.

Not to meet the woman and her child
in that remote village in the hills
who never had even a little rice
for their one daily meal these fifty years.

And not to see the uncaught, bloodied light
of sunsets cling to the tall white columns
of Parliament House.

In the new temple man has built nearby,
the priest is the one who knows freedom,
while God hides in the dark like an alien.

And each day I keep looking for the light
shadows find excuses to keep.

Trying to find the only freedom I know,
the freedom of the body when it’s alone.

The freedom of the silent shale, the moonless coal,
the beds of streams of the sleeping god.

I keep the ashes away,
try not to wear them on my forehead.

Freedom is the leitmotif in the poem- a different type of freedom from what we usually understand.The poet draws upon the Indian belief system about death as freedom from the body, the bondage of the world,from the physical aspect of life.The imagery of the poem is largely concerned with death and its associated activities .

..my country’s body floats down somewhere on the river

A body is cremated on the banks of the Ganges in Varanasi and its half-burnt remains are left in the river to float down somewhere.Nobody knows where the remains finally land, may be, in the vastness of the ocean , the ultimate destiny for the river.“somewhere” is unspecified destination in the vast expanse of space.

The body here is not an individual human being but an entire country, a collection of human beings ,now a mere body floating along on the river to an unspecified destination.

Inasmuch as the body is freely floating on the river it is freed from its bondage of mortal life.

The country is now free in another sense. It is now, in 1997, fifty years of freedom from the colonial rule. What if the woman and her child had no sufficient rice even for a daily -one meal , all these fifty years. Freedom from foreign rule did not give them freedom from hunger.

Old widows in Brindavan or Varanasi are free of their worldly attachments. Their kin have abandoned them and they had to live alone in desolation, uncared for and unloved. But don’t our old widows and dying men cherish their freedom bowing time after time in obstinate prayers ?

Obstinate prayers are said despite the hopelessness of the situation with an eternal hope that some day God will listen to them and grant a miracle to lift them out of their misery.

While the old and dying pray for their deliverance, the young too pray to change the world even before they have faced it. They have their notions of Utopia , to which the poet cannot subscribe . Nor can he join the old and the dying in their desire for freedom from bondage.This way he is left to be alone and not meet the starving woman and child or try to find a political solution to the economic and social ills of the society by resorting to the parliament.

In the new temple man has built nearby,
the priest is the one who knows freedom,
while God hides in the dark like an alien.

Beautiful lines .It is the priest who is free against God in the temple, who hides in a dark corner of the temple.The priest retains his own freedom and enjoys the freedom to let God interact with the devotees as and when he wants it . He alone has the power to decide God’s availability to the devotees.

The priest is our man and one of us.God is an alien , accessible to us only through this middleman of a priest.

A very interesting juxtaposition is achieved by contrasting things/people who have a choice with those who do not have it.

I watch (freedom to watch and not participate) ::Country is lifeless body with no freedom to watch or participate .
Upper part of bamboo is free::lower part of bamboo is sunk into itself.
Old women and dying men pray for release from physical bondage::Young children want to be in it and transform it.
Priest is free to move about :: God has to hide in a corner.
I keep looking for light that is hid in shadows:shadows keep looking for excuses to keep light
I try to find the only freedom I know(no choice): the freedom of the body to be alone(choice)

Let us list below all the things involved with freedom or lack of it:

Country’s body has to float down the river
left alone :freedom to be alone
bamboo sunk in itself in the lower half
it is necessary for me to be left alone,not meet…etc
old women and dying men cherish their freedom but how? By bowing in obstinate prayers(no freedom to do otherwise)
children scream their desire for freedom to change the world
the poet has no choice other than to be alone.Otherwise he has to see this,this..
priest knows freedom but not his God who has no choice