Cheap and Dear

“What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated–Thomas Paine.(1737 – 1809).

Whenever I write I play some background noise, any noise; a random movie or songs or a television show, some noise. This habit helps me focus on my work and sometimes I hear a dialogue, some lyrics or an advertisement which grabs my attention and it triggers a separate introspective train of thought. The above quote is one example of my ‘grabbed attention’ and what ensues is the ‘train of thought’.

I was writing about ‘Irish Independence’; the heavy price they paid to fight the British, the bloodshed and the loss of life they endured and yet held their ground; how dear freedom is to them. I had just started to ‘Google’ and learn a little bit more about how the Irish had fared post regaining their precious freedom and what post war struggles followed, how did they make it to the prestigious and proud ‘developed’ nations genre.  That’s when I heard the actor say, “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly:……” The accent was different and I could not fathom the rest. But the little I had heard was ample to catch my attention and my hands involuntarily moved on the keyboard to ‘Google’ the quote.

These profound lines are by Thomas Paine, agonizing over the pain and rage he felt during their war; The American Independence from The British.  The pain in the above lines is one voice expressing the feelings of the whole nation; patriots’ cry and despair; the willingness to lose their lives to win freedom.  Involuntarily my mind went to our long drawn 200 years of struggle; war for our independence and how much this subjugation had cost us. From The Golden Bird (Sone ki Chidiya) renown to our present label of a third world country, we paid dearly for our freedom.

Even at a personal level Thomas Paine’s words are poignantly true.  We seem to value something only when we do not have it or we earn it the hard way. As long as we have something at our disposal we have no value for it, and we esteem too lightly.

Being the second child in my family I have always been ‘told’ what to do. My dad would give me a set of instructions and as if that didn’t suffice, he would then summon my elder sister and make her my policeman. To add to my misery I was not allowed to boss over my younger sisters because they were too young! Here, I was the older one and so I should adjust and understand, see reason and make them comprehend too. Throughout my childhood I remember rebelling against this domination and wanting to break free of this ‘imposed discipline’. Discipline meant shackles or bondage for me and I instinctively shied away from rule books.  The more I rebelled the more I landed myself in trouble and this resulted in more restrictions, more monitoring and lesser freedom! This yo-yo game of ‘wanting to break free’ and ‘getting ensnared into captivity’ continued for very long.

My craving for freedom was as ardent as that of Thomas Paine’s. My fight to break free was continuously making me more rebellious, prone to indiscipline and further mischief!  The more I struggled the more strict my Dad was forced to be and it became cyclic. Much later did I realize that I had failed to see the yawning difference between ‘Freedom’ and ‘Freedom with Discipline’.

If I wanted to be free, given the choice to make my own decisions, then I had to learn discipline. Discipline comes naturally to them who have some interest in the self. I had to become judicious first; have the wisdom to exercise my freedom prudently and not squander it away. My indiscipline and mischief forced my dad to put me on a tight leash, I understand that today. The day I showed some maturity and responsibility he was more than happy to see me fly.

The trip down my personal memory lane ended there and my mind revisited Thomas Paine’s lines.  My mind came back to our country and brought me back to my question about us; where did we miss the bus? It took us two hundred years to gain freedom.  We paid the steepest price. Yet have we really honored our martyrs? The blood, sweat and toil lost in gaining freedom for us; is it being squandered in vain? Have we as a nation assimilated the truth that freedom is dear and needs to be valued and cherished?

When I see the monuments and heritage sites abroad, I am filled with awe and admiration at the way they have been maintained and showcased. Unwittingly a twinge of sadness grips me. We have so much more to offer to the world, with all the sites of the world put together, our country alone may have more places worth a visit. To me, India is undoubtedly the most beautiful place on earth. Be it natural wonders or architectural magnificence, we had it all, in fact the glory we had lured the world to our country. Today, our past glory has cast a heavy cloud upon us. We barely have any trace of our past glory yet we keep singing about some long lost past. There is so much unrest and disorder. As a child, I did not learn to discipline myself, yet kept craving for independence; similarly most of my countrymen I encounter are rebelliously independent and sadly untouched by discipline. We deface our monuments with impunity. The callousness we show towards our public property is pathetic. We are very indignant if someone corrects us, we are a free nation today and it is nobody’s business to say anything to us!

Makes me wonder if we got our freedom cheaply?  We seem to esteem it too lightly.

Note: I started writing about Ireland, but went off course again. What is written is just the way the thoughts ran in my head, ruminating in writing.  In the wake of the changes that have happened in my country, I thought it the apt time to upload this article.