Fear and Freedom

“Freedom is pure observation without direction, without fear of punishment and reward.
Freedom is without motive; freedom is not at the end of the evolution of man, but lies in the first step of his existence”.  Jiddu Krishnamurthy (1980)

Even with all the materialistic comforts and a fair amount of understanding of life, the one thing that most of us will always love to have is freedom. With aspirations and expectations developed over a period of time since childhood days, based on our understanding as well as family and social conditioning, it becomes increasingly difficult to reorient ourselves at later stages in life. We feel that we have lost that freedom.

I was named as Srinivasa Rangan formally at the time of naming ceremony when I was a few days old; I’m told that my paternal aunt started calling me Ravi and that remained my name in the family circle. When my father admitted me to the school, he gave my name as Srinivasa Rangan but I interrupted and told the school principal, “My name is Ravikumar.” Without much ado my father accepted. Thus began my understanding of freedom to choose, from the age of five.

During my growing years, I was tormented with quite a few diseases – Jaundice (twice, in 1961 and 1964), Para-typhoid (in 1967), and Diphtheria (in 1970; I stayed all alone in the Isolation Hospital for five days), and met with a major road accident (in 1970). Apparently I was lying unconscious on the road and a passerby admitted me to Bowring Hospital. Based on my feeble utterance of “Ulsoor” to his repeated question, “Where do you live?” he brought me in an auto to Ulsoor without knowing the address. Fortunately, one of my schoolmates identified me when the auto was passing by and brought me home. On all these occasions, I did not go through the emotion of fear. This was initially due to my ignorance about the problem. However, as I grew up, I started practicing to emotionally disconnect from the outcomes, to avoid fear. Even as recently as October 2008, when the polyp in my right nostril was diagnosed as malignant, a day or two before my surgery, I dropped my son Hari to the airport (as he was leaving to the US to attend a conference) without informing him about my problem. Over a period of time, I understood that I am enjoying my freedom primarily because I do not allow fear to engulf my mind.  

During my school days, as most of the youngsters did, I also played a lot of cricket (both regular cricket and leg-cricket, which is perhaps not popular today). We had a team in Ulsoor, made up of boys drawn from neighbourhood in the age group of twelve to sixteen years. Unlike these days, we had several grounds within the radius of one kilometre from my house. One of them was the EME grounds. Two of my teammates were brothers, belonging to a Malayalee family and their father was a Subedhar in EME. They were followers of Sathya Sai Baba. One warm afternoon sometime in May 1965, few of the families living in the EME quarters boarded an army truck and went to have a darshan of Sai Baba, who was then residing at Whitefield. As I happened to be with my cricket friends on that day, I also jumped into the truck.

At the Whitefield ashram, devotees numbering over a thousand were sitting in two long rows facing one another with a spacing of six feet for Sai Baba and his entourage to move. We also joined them and sat on the ground eagerly awaiting Sai Baba to come out. After we waited for over thirty minutes, Sai Baba with his entourage came out and started distributing vibhuti (sacred ash) just by squeezing his right palm to the devotees who were seated. Strangely he was not giving this to everyone. While I received it, a woman seated next to me did not. Having received it, I asked, “Baba, why didn’t you give it to her?” He simply smiled and proceeded. When I saw the woman next to me crying, I gave her some vibhuti and pacified her. While many might not have dared to question Sai Baba, being naïve, I had no such qualms. During my schooldays, I also had similar opportunities to ask questions of  Jiddu Krishnamurthy, when he addressed a public gathering at Lalbagh,  as well as Kamaraj and Morarji Desai when they visited my neighbourhood. While I felt I was brave enough to question them, they perhaps felt I was immature.  

Some of the habits that I cultivated during my college days like enjoying tobacco or alcohol were mainly to justify to myself that I don’t become slave to fear of acquiring any disease and have the ability to control myself. Even my becoming an entrepreneur after serving ten years as an R&D engineer in a reputed public sector was more to retain the locus of control over my future rather than the desire to create wealth. In the same vein, when some of the practices in domestic business were not akin to my value perceptions, I did not hesitate to come out from the businesses that were financially doing very well, though I was a co-founder. I never wanted to compromise on my freedom of thinking and doing.

If one wants to enjoy freedom, it is essential that we develop the required courage and conviction in ourselves. It is also based on the values that have been embedded in us by our family and society.

November 3rd 2018 | Ravi 02