Not to be Reproduced by Rene Magritte (1937)

The Moment of Freedom

How can you be free of the prison when all your life all you’ve ever done is to live inside of it?


The prison walls seemed brittle, now that he thought about it. I could break through.

Samuel turned his head and traced the walls. Like a thin vortex, the prison walls rose higher and higher, at their highest point they turned into a spiral and then opened into the sky like a funnel. Yet, all he could see of the funnel was a dimly lit hole. The bright light that had to travel through the great length in the darkness seemed weak and meagre as it met his eyes. Rain, though, was not that merciful. He had put up a shed in the corner from the bones lying around. When it rained, he got under the shed in the cramped corner of the cell and waited for it to stop. Sometimes it went on for hours and hours and he kept looking at the rain falling on his bed, his dirty prison floor and filling the cell with polluted water.

There was a hole in the cell, though. Through which the water went down. Torturously slowly. He had spent days lumbering through the ankle deep water. And when the rain stopped, the bugs came. They infested the cell like an epidemic. His books were half eaten. Pages and pages of his journal, his memories, were torn apart. And in the middle of the night sometimes he used to wake up remembering a distant lover’s kiss, only to be horrified by a bug sitting fearlessly on his lips and sucking the small amount of blood that was left in his body. But when it got over, when the clouds finally went away and the sunshine came running to him, his cell used to brighten up a bit. Perhaps not in reality, only in his mind. However, that seemed sufficient. With the sunshine, came the birds. He could see their nests high above on the walls and hear them sing. All that seemed to matter to him was their presence. But they ventured too low sometimes. When the rain came, their jumps on the wet prison walls inevitably made them lost their balance. Every once in a while a bird used to fall from a great height and he used to hear a crack noise of its bones breaking. From those bones, he made his shade to protect himself against the cruel rain.

In the moments of sadness, Samuel used to look up at the hole and imagine the world that he had not seen for twenty years. Was it twenty? Or had he lost count? To get away from the unbearable pain of solitude, he had resorted to writing. In the journal, that kept getting eaten in pieces by the bugs, he had written a story. A story that had somehow started resembling his life. He had written about a man who was once trapped in this prison cell a long time ago. And just as Samuel had resorted to writing to beat loneliness, his character had resorted to painting. He had peeled the layers of the cell rocks to make grey and brown. From the bones of the dying birds, came white. And he started painting. From the bottom to the top. He kept on painting. And when he could not reach higher, he simply started from the bottom again. When the rain came glistening the wall, his paintings dissolved into the water creating a fusion. All that was left were a few surviving strokes, some old strokes that had now merged with water and melted on the wall, and the wet shine of the wall rocks that were now bare as the paint dripped away. In that kaleidoscope of his paint, the water, and the sheer nakedness of the prison rocks, he found his refuge. But it felt too dry. Too metallic. He painted it again. And again. And again. And he kept on painting it despite knowing that eventually the rain will destroy it. He started longing for that destruction. In a very literal sense, destruction of his self. Yet, there was not enough energy in it. There wasn’t enough blood in it. He picked up a stone lying next to him and slit his wrist. From that blood, he painted his prison walls. As the rain came, he started losing consciousness. He kept on painting and painting and the paint kept on getting mixed with the water, until all he could see was a blurry blood red color fused with glistening brownish grey of the prison walls. As his head started banging and his breathing became heavy, he looked at his final creation for a moment and was filled with disgust. Too dry, he thought as he fell on the prison floor never to wake up again.


You seem to think that freedom is achieved when you are alone travelling on a motorcycle on an empty road with absolute silence everywhere or when you’re looking in the eyes of someone who loves you more than you have ever loved yourself. You cannot be more wrong, Samuel. What you call freedom doesn’t lie outside of these walls.

In his prison cell, Samuel sat with his back rested on the prison wall. There was someone on the other side of the wall. He didn’t know who. Every once in a while, he spoke from the other side of the wall and Samuel listened. They conversed for a few minutes, before suddenly he walked away leaving the conversation midway. Samuel used to remember the conversation and write it down every time after it ended. In the conversations that varied from time to time, Samuel used to find his consolation for life. They were his escape routes. For a brief while when he was in the conversation, he used to forget that he was all alone in the world and he would spend the rest of his life being alone in the world. His world. And it used to fill him with an unbound sensation that resembled happiness. But sometimes, in the midst of the conversations he used to realize this sensation and as a result used to be aware that the conversation was going to end. And it was agonizing. After all, happiness can be nothing but agonizing when you know that it is going to end. In the notes that he used to write after the conversations, he used to exaggerate the conversations and used to end them on a satisfactory note.

Then where does it lie?

In your head.

Do you mean to say that there is no physical, no actual freedom? Is it just a concept that exists in our heads?

From the moment you’re born, you start taking inputs. Facts. Languages. Speeches on how to live your life. Interpretations. Religions. Education. These inputs work as points or marks in your head. As you get older, you try to connect these points in a manner that you think is logical. That is how you form your opinions. Connections of these points. Let’s call these connections ‘bonds’. Most people think that freedom is a long process. It is something to be achieved. You can never understand freedom if you’re looking at it with a contextual glance. Freedom is a feeling. It is momentary. In fact, it happens in two separate moments, both of which are necessary. In one moment, all the pre-existing bonds break down. The person is left helpless. His whole belief system comes in question. In this moment, he is like an empty slate. Tabula rasa. And this is a very nutritious, yet very dangerous place to be in. For it can build you into a new person and it can also throw you in the pit of self destruction where you keep breaking remaining bonds in your system of thinking, until you’re left with nothing but emptiness inside. Unable to form opinions. Unable to sustain yourself without going insane. But if you do it right, if you handle yourself, you are left with a fresh empty slate ready to make new connections and form new bonds. Then in another moment, you somehow form these bonds again. This time, much better than the previous ones. Much smoother. Much more powerful. In this moment, you can shift your perspective so drastically, so differently that you can remove your obstruction. You can make them so insignificant in your system of thinking that they do not matter at all. For they exist only in reality. In your mind, they need not. In that sense, Saumel, you become free.

But is that freedom really freedom? I will still be in this cell, still surrounded by these ugly rocks. What are you trying to tell me? That I can make these walls insignificant? How can you be free of the prison when all your life all you’ve ever done is live inside of it?

In order to be free, there needs to be something restricting you. In your case it is these walls. It is the actual entity that you can sense. But what exists outside? What do you hope to find when you leave this place? A society? A job? Wife, kids, a family? These are all stories. Imagined realities. Mass delusions. They spend their days inside small offices. Granted, whiter than the room that you spend your days in. But closed rooms, indeed. They are exhausted by doing things that they don’t even want to do. It is a huge circle-jerk from bottom to the top, and you want to be a part of it. Samuel, my dear boy, you and they both live in prisons. The only difference is that they can’t see their prisons.

The voice stopped speaking. The conversation was over. Samuel turned his head and looked at the bright hole that was visible to him. His eyes were on the hole, but his gaze went much farther than that. He saw the bird that was about to cross his cell. He had always assumed that the bird was free. It wasn’t. It was only freer. It had to hunt to find food. It had to migrate with the ever changing seasons. Its magnificence that he had always adored was an external attribute that helped it in the mating process. It was the goal of its life. Producing offspring and keep surviving. The only way to be free of the prison is to make yourself believe that you are free. Freedom lies in your head, Samuel. Samuel kept watching the hole and kept crying. The beacon of hope that stood for him had suddenly vanished. His silver tears jumped out of his eyes and rolled off his body as small ivory beads. His helplessness had found visibility. And he kept on crying. He cried because he wasn’t free and he never will be. He cried because he realized that freedom was just a story that human beings kept telling themselves.

It started raining. True freedom is against our biological needs. We are not meant to be free. Just pretense is enough. And he cried because he pretense was never going to be actualized.

When he opened his eyes, the tear marks on his face had dried. The floor was covered with a thin layer of water. He looked at the walls surrounding him. They seemed brittle. He could break through.

But did he want to?

How can you be free of the prison when all your life all you’ve ever done is to live inside of it?