Sketching Freedom

It fell to the teenaged daughter to keep her little brother and nephew in line during our forays into the forest. While they generally listened to her, they also enjoyed pulling her leg. Smarty pants that she is with me, it is sweet indeed to see her stumped by her little brothers. One such time when she was speechless, she said something wise and insightful. I looked at her with awe – “So, you finally got around to reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations I see!” I said beaming. Pride shone through my pores though I tried my best not to show it.

“Nope – still boring! Siri told me.” said she and laughed at my expression.

“Confucius, Buddha,  Marcus Aurelius, and a thousand other philosophers in your Kindle, and you go for Siri?”

I shook my head and went off to do some philosophizing of my own. The walking philosopher if ever there was one. I walked into the sunset philosophizing, as I said.

Sunsets are beautiful things anywhere – enjoy them with a rustic feel, and they can be few things more poetic or romantic. That evening’s sunset had been particularly fruitful – it isn’t everyday that one gets to see a dozen peacocks take flight into the horizon, witness the chirp-filled fooling around of parrots, cuckoos and at least a dozen different kinds of birds, and encounter the folly of frogs skipping and narrowly avoiding one’s feet.

I traipsed indoors, happy with life, still rattling on about the beautiful image of the peacocks and parrots taking flight together in the evening light. “I wish I could be a bird sometimes! So Free!” I said, and walked straight into the trap.

“What is Freedom for you Amma?” said the daughter. She was sitting on the bed, looking happy and sketching.

“Well…errmm, eh?” After this coherent response, I decided something more was warranted and fumbled a bit more. ” Well…umm…it is the ability to be able to live without fear I suppose. ”

“So, is a free country a place where people aren’t scared?”

I paused – my answers were shaky. Why did I think birds were free? Because they could take to the skies when they wished? But they also take flight when startled or scared. Hmm. I have never been one of those lawyer types who could cover all angles, and espouse something that if examined from all angles will hold water. This needed thought.

So, I did the next best thing, and reached into the recesses of my teenage brain. I remember a song we used to sing at morning assembly in school, and a particular set of phrases that I liked at the time without fully realizing the impact of it all. It went something like this:
Blah Blah Blah-dee-blah
Blah Blah Blah-dee-blah
Freedom from Want & Fear
Freedom of Worship
Freedom of Speech & Thought

That was it. The husband said – “Hmm – good answer!” with the tone of one who wished he had thought of the answer himself.

Pretty soon, the discussion on Freedom took on multiple angles, and the whole family was there weighing in with their take on the concept of Freedom.

Is Freedom of Choice a thing?
What of the rules and laws required for a free society?
What about Freedom to Live? Is Immortality a worthy goal then? If so, is the opposite a freedom as well?
Freedom to Dream? Is there a limit on one’s dreams?

I remembered Trevor Noah’s narrative in Born a Crime on dreams,

“We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.”


The concept of our Imaginations being limited by our circumstances is an interesting and clairvoyant one. It got us discussing the dreams of women in far flung places like the toothless old lady we had met earlier that evening – what were her dreams for her life? In her book, Moment of Lift, Melinda Gates gives us a sneak peek into the lives of hard working women struggling in remote places. What were their dreams and ambitions? Do our dreams all follow Maslow’s triangle and what then for those who have reached the zenith – is there more at the end of it.



The daughter continued sketching looking strangely amused by the heated and fast pace at which Freedoms were galloping in the laid back villages of South India. It seemed to be the only thing galloping at the moment.

“So why do you ask about Freedoms my dear?” I asked.

“Oh, I was thinking of drawing a girl who was free, and I kept imagining a happy one. But free is not always happy, is it?!” said she.

I looked around at the serious faces of the gathered folks and burst out laughing. “Really! Gotten us arguing on freedom to dream and imaginations and the Lord knows what else. You sketched us all having a good go I suppose – Well, my dear, what did Wise Siri tell you that Freedom was?” I said

She laughed raucously, and swished her long hair freely.

“Show us what you’ve got and we’ll see which face looks Free!” I picked two random ones from the 5 or 6 she showed us.

Which one looks free?




The Moment of Lift – By Melinda Gates

About a decade ago, a couple of colleagues and I were having a lunch time conversation that veered towards those you will like to emulate and meet in your lifetime. As expected the list was full of celebrities, billionaires, eminent scientists and some folks, I had not heard of before. Some of them wanted to meet someone already dead if possible, and others chose people whose fields I found interesting.

When it came to my turn, I said, “Melinda Gates!” without hesitation as if the answer had been there all along just waiting to be asked. I was somewhat taken aback at how sure I was of the answer. After all, I had not given much thought to the question before, and I admired many people from different walks of life. The work of Bill & Melinda Gates through their foundation – understanding societal issues with an empathy and energy that shot them to the top of their fields in Business, is a real-life fairy tale that we are blessed to see unfold in our lifetimes. But there was more: I was inspired by her. It must not be easy being the wife of a world renowned personality and still hold her own, working to invest their considerable time and energy to making the world a better place. This, along with raising 3 children of their own.

Over the following years, my admiration for the couple has only increased. Like many others, I look forward to their annual newsletter, I watch amazed as other billionaires follow their path of philanthropy, and I certainly look forward to their book suggestions.

When I saw Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates, therefore, it was a no-brainer to read the book. I was prepared to be inspired, but the book did more than that. I was humbled, inspired, encouraged, heart-broken, and hopeful – all within the 300 odd pages of her book.

The introductory chapter had me with the simple line, “Sometimes all it takes to lift women up, is to stop pulling them down.” – Melinda Gates


The book is peppered with the story of brave women across the world; heart-breaking tales of poverty and misogyny; and inspirational NGO’s that have helped make their lot better.

Whether it was the story of Malala that we have all heard of, or the stories of people like Ruchi, Sister Sudha Varghese, Kakenya, Mama Rosa or Hans Rosling, every one’s journey that has been included, I am sure, speaks for hundreds of others with similar backgrounds.

The empathetic and analytical nature of the Author shines through in the words, and I must say, I could not help feeling a Moment of Lift as I saw hope pierce through the pages, as she makes the effort to include marginalized people.

Albert Einstein wrote, No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.

Melinda Gates’ book increases our level of awareness on several fronts. How her journey morphed from decreasing infant mortality rates to one of women empowerment; enabling family planning, access to health care and education is a powerful one, and I am very glad she decided to pen her growth and journey as a Philanthropist.

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