Thursday, December 2, 2010

Freedom, Lost And Found

My year-end piece for Yahoo India.

On the one hand, freedom; on the other, its curtailment. 

That’s the story of two books that attracted the most amount of newsprint this year. The first, Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, called by some “the best novel of the century”, which earned the author a spot on the cover of Time magazine – the first novelist in a decade to be so feted. The second, Rohinton Mistry’s Such a Long Journey, which, as we all know, was treated less as a book and more as a springboard for a new Thackeray to be catapulted into the limelight.

Though I have reservations about the acclaim with which Freedom was greeted, it’s ironic that while Franzen’s book explores varying notions of freedom through the prism of an American family, the opposition to Mistry’s novel showed that freedom itself can’t be taken for granted. Franzen illustrates how freedom can empower or emperil -- be it when applied to a homemaker, a student or a nation – while in another corner of the world, a local political party picks a book of which they’ve read, at best, a few paragraphs and has it removed from a university syllabus on the basis of that straw-man argument: “offended sensibilities”. Which brings to mind Rushdie’s words: “It is very, very easy not to be offended by a book. You just have to shut it.”  More so here, since it was an optional choice in the syllabus, not a mandatory one.

On one side, an acclaimed author from a nation searching for answers about its global role; on the other, the revenge of the anti-Enlightenment brigade. One gloomily recalls the words of John N. Gray, arch-debunker of humanism: “The good life means cherishing freedom -- in the knowledge that it is an interval between anarchy and tyranny.” Happy new year.

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