Monday, February 05, 2007

The Inheritance of Loss

I have been reading Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss over the week (a beautiful book by the way; a deserving award winner. )

One of the themes of the book is the plight of the menial worker from the sub-continent struggling to make a living abroad. In Dubai too, this has been the subject of many debates; scores of young men come to Dubai, work in the unyielding summers here, live in cramped lodging, work under unsafe conditions, survive in abject poverty. There are many who say that better human rights enforcement is needed.

But one rarely hears the workers complaining. What competitive advantage do they have but their low wages & attitude of servility? Are they really worse off here than in the famine-struck villages or city-slums that they will be forced to go back to if they lose that advantage? Have they ever been accustomed to clean drinking water or adequate living conditions in the first place? Is the apathy to their safety at work any more hazardous than their being homeless and spending their nights along the highways of Mumbai or Calcutta?

I recalled this from a play written by George Bernard Shaw: "Poverty is the greatest of evils and the worst of crimes....only fools fear crime; we all fear poverty"


anu said...

That's sad. I have Indian friends in Dubai who do miss home, but they seem happy with the life and the money there.
Anyways, I'll surely read the book.

Radha said...

Hi Anu,

Well u're right, Dubai is the city of money & extravagence. But my post was more about the construction workers, the house help, the cabbie, the cooks, and other such workers who come from poor backgrounds, no education & little ambition but sending a few bucks back home.

And its not just Dubai. The Indian sub-continent exports labourers & workers to the entire world. And its more or less the same story everywhere. The book in fact focuses on an Indian cook working in the restaurants of US.

lalunadiosa said...

This reminds me of a conversation I had with an economics prof recently. We were discussing the garbage collectors in Ithaca but what he said about their plight can be applied to any menial laborer anywhere. He basically said that globalization does nothing for them; they do not have new resources available to them. The only thing is that like Biju, instead of being exploited at home, they have a chance to go to another country and be exploited.

lalunadiosa said...

PS: I forgot to add, I liked the book a lot - not just 'cos it made me think but it was also very well-written and invoked the surroundings!

clickable said...

Another dichotomous example is of the article I read where the hand-rickshaws in Calcutta are now banned...but basically this means the rickshaw-wallahs are now reduced to begging on the streets!

Radha said...

Well, I wouldn't quite agree with that. The trickle-down effect of globalisation is gradual but it is there. But there is just so much poverty in the world, its a race with a rapidly moving target.

Its such a pity isnt it?

Lotus Reads said...

You make a good point, Radha. Sure, the conditions of a lot of these contracted labourers in the Gulf are deplorable indeed, but would they be any better off at home, I seriously doubt it. Still, I would like to see more accountability on the part of the Labour Unions and also closer scrutiny of unscrupulous labor agents who hire these unskilled workers at such low rates as to be compared with modern slavery.

Interesting discussion.

Radha said...


Hi! Sure the state needs to do more to empower these labourers.

However, the attitude of servility with which the poor are brought up with, in their own countries, also has a lot to do with it. They don't think they deserve more, so they dont want to be empowered with more.

Moi said...

hi radha, thanx for visiting my blog and leaving the comment behind......and now am here reciprocating and really enjoying going thro' ur the book as wedding gift just a week back...intend to start reading it in Spring break..that's like 3 weeks away... ..and yes i hope to be regular here too :)

Yuva said...

well.. atleast they go thru hell to give decent life to loved ones back home.. which is not possible in higways of mumbai or calcutta..

that's only motivation -- happyness of loved ones.