“AZAADI:” What does it mean to you? – Part 1

“Life without liberty is like a body without spirit.” – Khalil Gibran

Barcelona Beach, July 9, 2021

There are certain Urdu words I mix with my English, which I would love for my non-Urdu speaking friends to know. Urdu words that are special to the Pakistani within me… and one of them is “Azaadi.”

Azaadi in Urdu means Freedom.

Earlier this month, we honored the 75th Anniversary of Pakistan and India’s Independence, and it was a special one. I have been reflecting a lot about what this event means to me, as a Pakistani American, and I think I may need more time to not only reflect but also be able to put it in words…. I wish I could have been able to honor it and celebrate it in the way I have seen the Pakistani diaspora do it around the world.

But at the moment, even if I am at a loss of words, I can write. And I want to write. 

And I want to keep this post, Part 1 on Azaadi, because as noted, I do not have the mental space to express everything I want to express about this at this moment unfortunately…

For the topic is very deep, and has been written extensively from various angles. And there are indeed multiple types and levels of Azaadi. When we think of Azaadi, we can be talking about physical freedom, mental freedom, emotional freedom, intellectual freedom, financial freedom, freedom connected to our fundamental human rights… and the list could go on….

It is something that means differently to everyone at a personal and collective Level. It seems like such a simple concept, expressed in different ways, but it is actually a very difficult concept. Because seeking freedom can have limitations.

And sometimes we need to be sure that in search of such freedom or in practice of our freedom, it does not lead to deprivation of the freedom of others, or does not harm others in certain ways.

On that point, can we conclude that Freedom cannot be achieved in Full, that we cannot be fully free? And if we keep searching for perfection within the notion of freedom, this, in and of itself could prove to be disappointing?

There were times in my life, and even in the recent past, that I thought location would matter to my Azaadi. Sometimes I would think that if I moved or if I went to certain place, I’d be more free. For example, the many times I visited or traveled Wahington, DC, the place I dreamed to live, study, and work…there must be a sense of freedom there, no?

But one thing I’ve learned, and multiple times, the very hard ways, is that no matter where we go, we are taking every part of who we are with us….

And there are people in prisons all over the world, fighting for their freedom…

Twenty years ago, as a Senior in High school, as the leader of our high school chapter on Amnesty International, I would imagine sometimes that I would actually be a “Prisoner of Conscience” one day… I have shared this with people in my life before…. That by age 37, I would be in a dungeon in Sudan or somewhere– perhaps connected to my human rights activism. Life certainly took me in many different directions, at times have to leave that “activist” behind, or put a pause on that… Sometimes I felt stuck in those directions. In my recent past, when I was reflecting on 20 years ago, I thought about that fantasy I had, and that 20 years later, I was indeed in a different kind of “prison”…

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” – Nelson Mandela

People would often tell me when I would share that I feel depressed or anxious and suicidal, the person who has made her entire life about world affairs, international development, human rights, poverty alleviation, social justice, and various issues, both academically, and professionally, that Elsa, “think about what’s happening in the world.” I have stated often, that in the case of the “disorder in the mind,” no matter what level of truth there is in that statement “there are starving children in Africa,” there can be nothing productive or positive resulting from saying that to someone struggling with an episode of depression or a suicidal ideation.

From traveling various places around the world, while there is a good temporary moment of gratification, with such a change in environment, what I have learned is that no matter where you are, if you are not free “up there”, in the mind, you may not be able to taste freedom at all, ever. And this is a truly tragic reality for those who suffer with mental illness.

Freedom can thus be defined as “existing” and “being” without boundaries and with peace within. Being free from all that blocks progress, blocks movement, blocks choice. It can be about just “letting go,” and just “being”. Unfortunately, this concept of “letting go” can be much more difficult for some over others.

It is just important to remember that it is not always about any particular (geographic) “space.”

And I know this connection between the personal and the collective on the notion of “freedom” is critical, really something that connects all of us.  Sometimes it could mean that if we are fighting for freedom in one way, we may not have it another….

I will further share my thoughts about what Azaadi means to me, (taking some ideas noted in this blog post) here in a future YouTube video. I will share the link next weekend. Unfortunately I have not had the Azaadi of time lately for putting up my next video, so I decided to write instead.

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I want to say Azaadi Mubarak and Happy Azaadi to those who celebrated Pakistan and India’s 75th Anniversary Independence this year. Most people who know me, must know that Pakistan has a very special place in my heart. It was a special year indeed in both the challenges at the personal and collective level, as well as the progress we are making at the personal and collective level.

The sun sets in Northern Sindh, 2019.

Pakistan had won my heart since I was a little girl when my parents took us back to their homeland, and I aspired to understand. I was blessed to have had the privilege to study the country through advanced degrees of education. I wish I could have been able to give more to this country now, at this point in my life but just like before I’ll keep fighting to find a way to return again one day. I have learned only a scratch about this country. But from that scratch, I have so many stories, stories that I have only begun to share with the world, most recently in the beautiful country of Georgia. I’d like to continue to be an Ambassador to bridge understanding in any modest or small way I can in this short life we have…as I fight for my own Azaadi, and promulgate others. I know that Azaadi in general means very different things for everyone and depending on your position/place in society, unfortunately, and we still have a long way to go to achieve an inclusive socioeconomic prosperity in this country and beyond. We must not forget those who are too often forgotten in the equation for Azaadi.

I also know that Pakistan, especially the Sindh and Balochistan area, is going through a difficult time during its monsoon season right now, going underwater with the flooding situation that has taken over more than a thousand or so lives, destroyed farms, homes, livestock, land, and crops. Sindh is a very special place to me (and to my father as well as many of my friends and colleagues in Pakistan). My heart is with you during this devastating time.

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As implied, the word “Azaadi” is one of my favorite words in Urdu. I love to say it, write it, dance to it… Indeed, as you can tell, I have used this term loosely for various concepts, ideas, events, etc…. I imagine this to be perhaps one of the most beautiful words in every language around the world.

The word in the Indo-Subcontinent has been connected to something deeper and larger. There is a lot of literature on this topic. For a more recent piece of work, I would recommend this amazing anthology by Arundati Roy: “Azadi: Freedom, Fascism, Fiction.”

This is an anthology sharing what Azaadi means in the context of freedom against Hindu Nationalism, and referenced for Kashmiri Independence from what they perceive to be Indian Occupation. Roy alos discusses Azadi in the context of authoritarianism, which is potentially increasing, not just in India, but around the world. I like to talk about some of her essays in the future.

And I am going to dive more into this notion of “Azaadi” at a personal and collective level, breaking it down a bit more, in future writings and videos.

You might see a pattern of what I attempt to do in connecting the personal to the collective, in connecting the individual to the whole part of the equation, in connecting the inward revolution to the outward revolution… Because in order for one to be involved in change as a collective, in the freedom at the larger level, we do need to grasp that connection at the micro-level, the very personal level to the larger equation.

So it is a really a mind game, this notion of Azaadi…I am not certain even with all of my reflections on Azaadi the past few weeks during the month, that I can say at this time that I know or understand what freedom truly is…

But I did note earlier, I can write. Freedom can be about being able to do what you want to do. And I want to write. I must write… I must create art in some way… 

And writing this post has revealed to me yet again, that my Azaadi has always been from as far as I can remember in the beginning of my existence, and persistence, in writing.

So I will keep continuing to seek this Azaadi “through the pen.”

Give me a pen, and no matter where I am in the world, whether or not I am free, I will use it, hopefully, more for the good, as my Sword, my weapon, to keep the fight going

As I continue to share my thoughts and reflect on this going forward, would you do me the honor of sharing with me what “Azaadi” means to you?

Tbilisi, Georgia, August 2022

“No one outside ourselves can rule us inwardly. When we know this, we become free.” – Budda

Peace, warmth, and blessings,

Your sister,

Dr. Elsa

The Warrior KQueen

“She wasn’t looking for a Knight. She was looking for a Sword.” – Atticus

Tibilisi, Georgia, August 2022
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