Immigration is one of those issues where everyone has a view: I have mine. And, indeed, everyone has a view which is determined by their own experience, plus Daily Mail: Being a migrant myself, I have the first part but not the second.
I am also an unusual migrant: I migrated not to settle, but to experience and learn. As I always maintained, my roads finally lead back to where I started. But I did not think my education would be complete unless I travelled, and so I did. This is why I seek out experiences which take me to interactions with different cultures and set me challenges to do different things in different countries: For me, all of these are accumulating knowledge and experience for an eventual return.
This makes me a permanent outsider. I am an outsider to what I should call my native land, but also to the one I live in. Whatever practical difficulties this may entail, there are some significant advantages of being in this position: You get to escape Daily Mail, or its other country equivalents, for one. This whole debate about some stereotyped aliens taking over benefits and jobs (though both can't be correct at the same time) becomes redundant, and rather, migration becomes a personal conversation. Living through the suspicions, stereotypes and usual migrant experiences, one forms an idea not just of the society but of oneself.
For example, I developed a view about immigration watching the rhetoric over the last ten years I have been an immigrant. My own migration was easy: The country wanted Highly Skilled Migrants of a certain age, education and income, and I ticked the right boxes. This is indeed before the rhetoric changed: The highly skilled became highly endowed, and the balance shifted from income or experience to wealth. About seven years after I arrived in Britain, rules changed so that I couldn't have made it - at least if I remained exactly in the same position where I was when I came - because I needed a lot more money. The idea was that Britain did not want more people to come and work here, but rather people who would create jobs. People with money, that is.
This has also been the general drift of the policy elsewhere. Fortune ran this memorable cover, which tells the story in America. Whatever is written on Statue of Liberty, the discussion about immigration is not about high-minded idealism. The British approach of straight-faced opportunism has infected everyone.
But, then, indeed, it is easy to see the problem in this approach. The British government perpetually lives in the last century, being led by public school boys who never actually had to do a hard day's work or run a small business. Their love for the wealthy should be fairly easy to understand. However, it is difficult to see why Americans will also fall in that trap, after building a successful economy based on the script written on the Statue of Liberty: The original one. All those immigrants who will go on to set up great American businesses arrived in America poor, huddled and often unskilled: They looked a lot more like today's Mexican workers than the French banker running away from a tax regime.
These are things one sees as a migrant but others don't. In fact, for a migrant, there is not one desirable way of living other than the changing landscapes of a journey. Others, those who never left (outside of holidays), preservation of ways of life come as a top priority - indeed, that is what is called happiness. However, what is less understood perhaps is that the migrants want happiness too, either by clinging to little pieces of home inside their own houses or by trying to embrace a fixed way of living as in the host culture, but usually fail, as his or her existence itself is treated as an aberration, a departure from things that used to be. One may try to prove the point that clinging to old ways of life may not be an option for many of these migrants, because life at home irreversibly changed as globalisation, often to maximise the returns on the funds of the same pensioner uneasy about the people next door, has been unleashed upon them: One does not have a choice but to board a boat to Europe once the fishing village one lived in die, just because the Atlantic Cod has made its way to European dinner plates. I escape the migrant's desire to be accepted or understood in wanting to be a permanent migrant, but can see the vivid irony when the talk of British ways of life erupt in earnestness.
I also get to meet a lot of international students, who are looking to settle in Britain, the proverbial migrant, who would somehow live through a miserable existence in the hope of making it one day. There is nothing for them in the country they left, they tell me: The stories one gets told about elite jobs waiting for people returning with a fancy education does not apply to them. They set their ambition in just achieving a middle class life, a home whose debt they would pay off with life, a life for their children where they wouldn't be discriminated or persecuted, where they would be able to access Doctors who wouldn't cheat or lie to squeeze extra money out of them - and for this, they are ready to toil, ready to pay many times more for a house than it is worth, ready to accept a permanently inferior place in the society and bear the burden of permanent suspicion, and to accept a role far below their capacity and a cut-price pay. There is a definition of good life all of them have bought into: This good life hinges on being able to buy fancy trinkets rather than having a boring meal cooked at the family home, on having a healthy ban balance rather than having an extended family, on being treated indifferently by neighbours rather than the unwanted and intrusive advices of a village elder. One may call this a migration trap: A self-fulfilling, all destroying cycle, which sucks away those who can, just as it takes away the best mangoes and fishes, from those left-behind societies; and then once they arrive, they are left to live in permanent stigma, rationalising exclusion not just for them but for their children too, unless they give it all just to be allowed a silent existence.
My travels take me to Middle East, where an extreme version of this plays out. There the exclusion is institutional and the work patterns matches those slaves who built the pyramid. Yet people come, buying into a slightly cruder version of the same Good Life, to get trapped in the elaborate tangles. Again, my being outside rather than inside allow me to see the similarities, even if just as a metaphor, between the communal housing in East Ham and bunk beds in Sonapur.
Indeed, in all of this, there is a question that one of my students asked me: Is the nation important? Why would I care about the land I came from, and revel in that identity, plotting endlessly my way back? Why is a house in the country I live now not equal the house my grandfather left for me? Isn't this missing to celebrate my present and indulging in an interminable love affair with my past? Should I not move on, because, migrants' life, if anything, is about moving on?
There are no easy answers, particularly as most people leave as they are driven out. The countries who send out migrants are countries where a narrow elite has taken power and keep it among themselves: Migrants are sentenced to marginal existence not just after they leave, but also before - as they are outside the circle of the elite and can not have any voice in the affairs. However, it is still the allure of good life, sold actively by this elite: Look at the celebration in Dhaka or Manila as the migrant's remittances keep the domestic currencies strong so that they can buy their Land Rovers. People is their main export, and the most profitable one, as it keeps paying, one Bangladeshi 'exporter' told me. And, surely, those Land Rover sales help keep British factories and British jobs going, maintaining a full circle. Except that some people would have to live life as a canon fodder.
I think this is the central point: That being a migrant in this new world means giving up your chance to make a difference. Silicon Valley entrepreneurs may disagree, but they are an odd bunch, and increasingly, Americans want more Russian oligarchs than Indian or Chinese students. Making a difference by being a migrant is going out of fashion. In fact, returning is a better way of making a difference, look at the transformation in China and India and Africa, not just of the shopping malls and restaurants, but of businesses, of conversations and of values. That is the promise of good life upturned: That is about rejecting the life in search of good life and creating good life oneself. This means struggle, but no less than that of a migrant, just with a better chance of making a difference in the end.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
A week into lockdown and things are beginning to change. Mornings are late, afternoons are lazier and evenings never end; meditations are filling out the time for Yoga routines and Netflix profiles are strewn with half-finished movies. This state-mandated, state-funded period of idleness is being likened to being called up to serve, but is nothing like that: Such a comparison is really an affront to the idea of service. Instead, this is just one long streak of panic; of the centre not holding and life not going on as usual. With the usual patterns and rules in suspended animation and business talk - and business - being rendered meaningless, space is opening up for unusual questions: Is Capitalism about to end? Is this the death of globalisation? Does it get uglier from here? My grandfather's generation would have scoffed at us. They saw through wars and pandemics. But, in fairness, we haven't had a life-ending crisis of our own. Notwithstanding the experiences of th
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
The ‘Why’ Question? Adolf Hitler was appointed the German Chancellor by President Von Hindenburg on 30th January 1933. This was an extraordinary turn of events. Previously, President Von Hindenburg consistently refused to appoint Hitler the Chancellor, despite the impressive electoral performance of NSDAP in July 1932, Hitler’s uncompromising demand of the Chancellor’s post and a repeat election in November 1932 which failed to break the deadlock. Explaining his refusal, Hindenburg wrote in a letter on 24th November, “a presidential cabinet led by you would develop necessarily into a party dictatorship with all its consequences for an extraordinary accentuation of the conflicts in the German people.” The question ‘why’ Hitler was appointed Chancellor, despite the President being acutely aware of what might follow, is therefore a significant one. The NSDAP had election successes throughout 1932, and was already the biggest single party in the Reichstag and various Landtags acros
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.