Human urge is to strive for something better than the existing situation .Do we have the freedom to move into a better state? Can we really transform the possibilities we are born into? Through five stories, the novel attempts to answer this question.
I kept wondering long after I had read the book: Can we really transform the possibilities we are born into? What do the characters and stories suggest as an answer? The answer seems to hover between Yes and No , and each reader has to decide it for himself or herself.
When a poor man Lakshman finds a baby bear , he decides to earn better by training the baby bear into a dancing bear. He names this bear Raju. In the process of training it to dance , he subjects the poor animal through excruciating and painful cruelties. The bear loses his freedom and the man also does not have a good life.
A poor girl Renu goes to Mumbai to earn money by working as a cook in many houses. This she does to send money to educate her nephew in the USA in Physics. She waits for the day when the nephew would return to India after doing his Ph.D.and she will have better days.
Another poor girl Milly from Jhar Khand is sent by her parents to work as a domestic cook with a view to earn money and send a part of money so earned to her parents back home. But her employer in Mumbai treats her like a bonded labourer and does not permit her to move out of the house . Milly then marries a perfect stranger who rescues her from her employer’s custody .
Another story is of Soni (Milly’s friend) and her elder sister and her mother .The mother dies of Cancer. Soni and her sister join extremist( Naxalite) group to escape into a state of freedom from poverty.
The book opens with the story of an academic from India , settled in USA , who takes his son to Fatehpur Sikri , after their lunchtime tour of the Taj Mahal.Due to various odd experiences including facing a bear on its hind legs with its muzzle pressed to the glass of the car, the boy gets unwell and dies.
The book is full of many unforgettable scenes and characters. The characters , despite their poverty and unequal social system , manage to preserve their dignity. The author narrates the stories with compassion and grace.He has a complete control over language and pace of the stories.
The story of Raju bear was the longest and reminded me of Kartick Satyanarayan’s Wildlife SOS India in Agra , India(whom I met while serving as Secretary , Forests and Wildlife , U.P. , India).No wonder , I found their name in the list of acknowledgements given at the end of the book.
A State of Freedom is an outstanding and beautiful work of literature .