Slaves Of Affection
Slaves Of Affection
I had never come across the expression ‘slaves of affection’ before I met Mr. Sreedharan on the Waterfront Walkway along the Hudson River in the Newport area of the US Jersey City. My wife and I were having a stroll along the walkway in the Sun-lit evening of the wonderful land and decided to rest for a while on a wayside bench overlooking the river and the famous ‘One-World Tower’ at ground zero on the opposite bank. We were quite absorbed in relishing the environment, boats of various shapes and sizes plying along the river, rare water-bird species floating and cooling themselves in the flowing water, small waves splashing on the shore signaling the arrival of the high tides, joggers of all descriptions and attires, fast-moving youngsters returning from their workplaces, old Asian couples strolling with variety of expressions on their faces. Suddenly a middle-aged person in shorts, T-shirt, and sports shoes appeared in front of us with a namaste posture, smilingly looking at my saree-clad wife more than me.
“ May I introduce myself ?”. he asked and without waiting for our approval continued,” I am Sreedharan from Tamil Nadu. I saw both of you from the other bench and felt like talking to you.”
We smiled and he in an encouraging mood went on apprising us that he came all the way from Chennai to attend the first birthday celebration of his daughter’s daughter. He had to come alone as his wife had to look after their son’s baby somewhere else on this planet. We reciprocated by posting him that we were there for more or less a similar purpose to be with our son, daughter-in-law, and two-year-old granddaughter. Since we were, on the same page, we continued our conversation. All of a sudden, Mr. Sreedharan asked with a tinge of high emotion, “ Do you believe, Sir, that slavery has been wiped off from this planet? Aren’t we all slaves? Slaves of our affection? I don’t think that you like to travel fifteen thousand miles at this age; I am sure you do not enjoy the same level of freedom here that you enjoy back at home; Yet you are here to be dictated by your children, to be in terms with a feeling of unavoidable confinement, to strive hard to find ways of filling up your unending leisure. Isn’t it slavery? Are we not slaves of affection?”
We did not have an answer. On our way back from the stroll we kept on churning the expression over and over again, trying to assess how precise it was to describe our state of pleasurable predicament. Next day morning, sitting in the easy chair, designated by my granddaughter as “Dadu’s chair”, where nobody else was permitted to sit, I could not concentrate on the absorbing book “The difficulties of Being Good” by Gurcharan Das. as the expression kept on haunting me. I pondered and pondered what affection was. No doubt that it is a disposition of mind, No doubt that it is an emotional state. But is it not quite distinctly different from any form of passion, I asked myself. What is it that drives the affectionate behavior of a person? Why our new friend thinks that it is enslaving us, I wondered.
Another evening, another walk, another view of Indian parents pushing perambulators, rushing to take care of agile toddlers, trying to divert the attention of crying babies. One could see the old couples sitting with stony silence, looking far across the Hudson Bay. What were they searching for? Pleasure, relaxation, excitement, or avenues to overcome displeasure and depression? Looking at different dispositions of Indian parents in particular, I was reminded of the theory of personality that Henry Murray, the American psychologist had developed. He had identified five affection needs: affiliation meaning spending time with other people, nurturance meaning taking care of other persons, playfulness for having fun with others, rejection of other people, and finally succor implying ‘to be helped or protected by others’. Could these affection needs to explain why plane-loads of Indian parents arrive in the United States round the year, I mused.
The next day morning I heard some soft knocks on my door with a softer call, “ Dadu, wake up”. I rushed out to see the engrossingly smiling face, waiting to take me to my designated chair, where tea would be served to me. She brought her toy utensils. In her own style, she prepared tea from nothing and I had to drink from her empty toy spoon and exclaim that it was the best of tea I ever drank. She trusted. She trusted me with everything. She would leave all her prized possessions with me when she would go to the bathroom. She would cuddle in my lap and all around me. She would bring all her musical toys to me and repeat the same rhymes innumerable times. Can there be a better expression of affection than this? It attracts, and attracts so intensely, that no distance would appear as distance, no strain would tire you, no loss of freedom would be felt, no thought of confinement would dare engulf you.
Where is the slavery then, Mr. Sreedharan? Slaves are held against their will. But aren’t we here in a different situation, where you would love to surrender on your own to the affection of your children and grandchildren? It is like a pool of intoxication. The more you dip into it, the deeper you would like to dive. I, therefore, earnestly request you, Mr. Sreedharan, to modify the expression. Do not call us slaves. Call us, instead, ‘honeybees of affection’.