– by Anand Kumar Sharma
Disclaimer: All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
I could have simply written a story which revolves around a girl who faced so many challenges in her life and what price did she pay for her freedom and could have easily won the competition. But I felt that no one has ever told what price does a boy like me has to sacrifice for freedom. Yes! This is my story. The price that I paid for my freedom. It’s weird to think of that, right? You might be thinking what price could a boy currently studying in an IIT would have paid? A breakup? Nope! Giving up a social life for JEE preparation? Naah! It’s much more than these little things. Let me tell you, I am from a small village in Rajasthan. Yes, Rajasthan and that is where all my troubles began. It was the month of August in the year 1998 and my mother was expecting a baby. My parents already had three daughters but were still trying for a boy. People weren’t aware at that time. They just wanted a son because of their usual belief that only a boy could carry forward the name of the family since daughters get married to a different house and would leave them eventually. So finally I was born and my parents were extremely happy to have a boy at last. Although we were a middle-class family, my parents threw a grand party in the village. My father was a farmer and my mother was just a housewife. All my sisters were married. I always wondered why did they agree to get married at such a young age. I didn’t know that I will get to know the answers to all my questions soon. I was 4 when I saw one of my friends going somewhere early in the morning. They were all dressed the same way. A white shirt which was well ironed, brown shorts with belt, brown socks, and black shoes. All of them were carrying a bag. I rushed to one of my friends and asked where he was going. He told me that he was going to school. School! I gazed at him in wonder. I had never heard that term before and how would I? I used to spend most of the time with my father in the fields, helping him in sowing seeds, removing weeds, running in the fields and driving away from the birds, etc. I rushed to my house and asked my mom what school was. She was busy with daily chores so she ignored me first. When I insisted, she scolded me and sent me away. I ran down to the field to my father. “Bapu! Bapu! What is a school?”, I asked. “Where did you hear that word?”, he inquired. I don’t know why but I felt that he was not happy hearing it. I narrated him the whole story. I still remember the words till now what he had said about school: “It’s just a place where people waste their time and money. You need not ask any further questions regarding that and no need to go to play with your friends from now on. You will work and help me in the fields.” Today, I seriously think that where I would have been if I would have listened and obeyed him. I guess I would be like him. Illiterate with the same narrow mindedness. But I was a rebel from the beginning. Next day, I revisited my friend to know more about schools. He told me that a school is a place where they give you knowledge. And once you acquire the knowledge, then you can become successful and earn lots of money. I was fascinated by what he told me. I went back to my house, running, thinking, planning. I planned to ask my father to send me to school too. But I never knew it would turn out so badly. When I told him that I wished to go to school, he was so furious that he started beating me and asked my mom not to give me food for the whole day. Have you ever remained hungry for a day? If yes then you know how it feels. I was just a 4-year child, starving for food. Anyway, I was so stubborn that I had made up my mind that I would go to school anyhow. So I used to go along with my friend hiding from family members. My friend had lent me one notebook and a pencil. I would stand near one of the windows, hiding and would listen to what the teacher said. This continued for a week. I had already memorized 12 alphabets and used to practice, secretly in my house.
Everything was going fine when one day the teacher caught me peeping into the class through the window. He came running and took me to the principal. I was in the principal’s office and was crying. I was crying not because they had caught me but the principal had called for my father. I still remember that night. My father had pushed all his limits this time. Regardless of the many attempts by my mom, she could not help me. I was punished to spend the whole night outside. I still cannot believe that my father was so furious at me that he punished his only son who was just 4 years to spend the whole night outside the house. That day it rained and I lay helpless in front of the house. By the time it was morning, I had a high fever. My maternal uncle was supposed to come from town to meet my mom the next day. He was a graduate working in a bank and had seen the importance of education. When he arrived, he saw me lying in bed with a high fever. He went insane after listening to the whole story. He told me not to worry and said something which I didn’t understand at that time, but now I do. He said, “Every person in this country has the right to education”. I don’t know what he told my father but the next day I was enrolled in the school. I guess he might have threatened him. Anyway, I was happy that at last, I was able to go to school.
I was in class 8th when one day I saw my house was getting decorated. I asked my mom if there was a function. She smiled and said, “You’ll know”. Later that day I saw some guests in the house which I had never seen in my entire life. They had a daughter which they sent along with me to play. Her name was Vaishali and she was just 9. We talked and played while the elders were chatting and discussing some important issues in the drawing-room. When they went away, I asked who were they. The news that came next from them still haunts me today. I was getting married. Yeah! This is what they told me. At that time child marriage was common in Rajasthan. It was this time when I got an answer to my question that why are my sisters married at such a young age. My parents were very superstitious and did not believe in changing their ancestral rules. I tried contacting my maternal uncle, but he could not save me this time. So I got married when I was 13. I was helpless and could not do anything. The rule was that I marry now but could bring the bride home after I am a minimum of 20 years or started earning. I was never in favor of that. Even though I am currently in an IIT, I have still not succeeded in convincing my parents. I don’t want to accept this marriage. And I feel that if it requires me to file a case in court against my parents or this marriage, I will definitely do it because I feel that I am free to choose and I am ready to pay any price for it. You would be thinking, how can I go against my parents. Well, that has another part to it.
I was in 9th, intelligent but married. I already had got so many scholarships that my fees never bothered my parents. But when I told them that I wanted to study higher and become a graduate like my uncle, they became furious. My father never had a good image of education because he had seen so many unemployed educated people. He believed that farming was way better and productive than going to school, attain knowledge and then doing nothing. We had several fights. My mom tried to convince me to give up studies saying that it won’t help me in the future and join my father in the fields. My father was getting older and he needed someone to take care of the fields. He had never thought of me leaving them once I grew up. But as stated earlier, I had my plans. I left my house. Yes! I left my house when I was 14. I went to stay along with my Uncle in Kota. My uncle helped me a lot. I stayed along with him. He got me into a school, paid for my fees and helped me with my homework. I worked hard and you won’t believe I came third in whole Rajasthan. By the end of class 10th, I had made up my mind to get into an IIT. I was given a scholarship by a coaching class who prepared students for JEE and you all know what happened next. I am here in front of you all, studying in an IIT. I had a tough childhood. My parents weren’t supportive at all. I always had to fight for everything that I wanted. I did not get a single thing in my life without paying for it. I was not a privileged child, I was never given the freedom to choose or to decide or take my own decisions. That’s why I have always paid something to get what I needed. I paid for my freedom. I paid my whole childhood for it. That’s the price for my freedom but still, it’s half of it. I know sooner or later I have to pay for the other half but I am mentally ready and prepared for it.
(The winning entry for the writing competition, The Price of Freedom, organized on the occasion of 73rd Independence Day.)