26 December 2013

The chains we love too much to lose

‘How is your brother?’ I asked a friend who is now domiciled in Canada and was here in Colombo for a few days.  ‘He’s a glorified slave!’ my friend retorted with his signature and infectious guffaw. 
My friend, whom I’ve known since I was in the seventh grade, is an academic.  He is one of the most articulate of my school friends and has one of the keenest minds I’ve encountered.  He is a professor in Urban Planning and Design, and is well verse in cultural and political studies.  The brother, whom I haven’t met in a long time, is the CEO of a company in Indonesia.   I remember him as a fun-loving kid who was into music and if I remember right was a member of a band.  That kid and the word slave didn’t go together.

My friend explained that he had met his brother in the lobby of one of the Colombo’s top hotels.  The moment he saw his brother, my friend had blurted out, ‘you are a glorified slave…..vahalek! vahalek!

This is what he had seen.   The CEO was seated.  Two mobile devices, one in each hand.  Calling. Texting. Checking and responding to emails. Who knows?  What’s important was that both were ‘at work’.  The brother, to my knowledge, was not ambidextrous.  Perhaps it was an acquired skill, a spin from the adage ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. 

Here’s a rough transliteration of my friend’s home-truth delivery to his brother:

‘When you think of “slave” you think of manacled hands, chains and so on.  The only difference between such a slave and you is that you are missing the chains.  Those mobile devices are your manacles.  You can’t use your hands, you can't have a conversation, you can’t move around.  You can’t put them down. They go with you wherever you go!’

The point need not be elaborated.   The kid brother had smiled.  Maybe there’s some part in him that is unshackled.  Maybe he doesn’t feel he’s in chains, who are we to judge?

There are no doubt people who can say, if pushed to do so, ‘I am unshackled!’ but it’s more likely that such a person would not go around making assertions.  He or she is more likely to smile, much like that young man, but perhaps for different reasons.    

The majority, if they come to think about it, are not too different from my friend’s brother.  Not everyone has two smart phones and not everyone is a CEO (not that a CEO needs 2 mobile devices, of course), but if it’s not a phone-shackle, it’s something else, a something-else-shackle shall we say? 

We are, all of us, bound.  We have our fixations.  We grip things, tangible and otherwise, and the things we hold on to really hard end up possessing us.  We are bound by love and by hatred, and a lot of other things besides.  It is not easy to unshackle, but do we try at all?  Are there things we can do without that we inside on closing our fists over?  When we employ fingers to clutch, don’t we deny ourselves the joys of caressing?  Is it only with our fingers that we clutch?  What kind of slaves are we and to whom or what?

Some chains are visible, some are not. Some kinds of enslavement are pretty apparent, some reside in our unconscious.  Sometimes we see others being handcuffed or even handcuffing themselves, in a manner of speaking.  We are blind to our enslavement. 

My friend related a good story.  It cleared some cobwebs. Unlocked some chains.  That’s a Christmas gift, I think.  Thanks Kanishka.