A prolonged conversation on migrant workers with an old friend, based in SE Asia ignited a part of my life which I have parked by the side at this bend of my life. I worked on migrant worker issues for a research think tank in Singapore and am associated remotely with Mohsin Malhar Bhai on his amazing grassroots work, that has none of the fluff but meaty collaboration with the fresh worker from Bangladesh. I am astonished that I remember research paper references to the year and author. It’s in my genes. Migration Studies or Anthropology departments would demand for better grades for a PhD application rather than years of writing and understanding if I plan to write a formal academic work. Hence, I scribble here.
I am raised in the Gulf as a second generation migrant of educator parents. Migrant/Expat/Temporary Guest Worker/Pravasi are terms embedded in the consciousness with Passport, Visa Categories and Labor Cards since I realised that am not a zombie but a thinking human being. Academia churns our lives experiences in to quotes and are reduced by the home countries as remittance data. But migrants live lives at the glorious intersection of transnational labor networks and monetary flows. His life is far more richer than Policy documents from ILO and IOM.
The middle class temporary guest worker is turned in to labor, and his normal life is converted in to a parallel life within the community away from the mainstream. Life is defined by the next trip home. The perennial negotiation to earn and save for his precarious life, is a colourful one, ingesting humiliations and taunts as pickle with sambhar and sadam.
The entrepreneur migrant is a unique species in the gulf, as money making becomes his calling. He listens to election rally speeches on YouTube while commenting on the winning candidate. He listens to BNP campaign songs on Watsapp as Bangladesh goes to the hustings and NaMo speeches as Rajasthan goes to the ballot box as well.
It’s a life defined by risk and uncertainties. He makes his life better with a Biryani after Jumma prayers, on a weekly basis. But, the decision to come and work is his, hence the accountability lies with him.