There Is No Second Generation: Deepak Unnikrishnan’s ‘Temporary People’

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By Kavya Murthy

If I remember my neighbourhood uncle, Chandran mama – which I’m doing thanks to Deepak Unnikrishnan’s book, Temporary People – I recall he was the first Malayali accent I heard, growing up in a sheltered, Kannada-speaking household. He never came over without a treat for me: a tin of Fox candies, covered in Arabic lettering. With those Fox candies, I was a child possessed.

Then I remember that he always came over with a purpose, a purpose that ran foul of my father: to use our telephone. It was a red, rotary-dial phone enabled with trunk and international calls. The international service was really for show, announcing my father’s seven-digit prosperity to neighbours who had no phones at all – but Chandran mama spotted it, and called in his favours early into our acquaintance.

The monthly phone bill, then, was a reminder of his itinerary: the higher the figure, the more likely that he was dialling ‘the Gelf’. A regular bill meant Chandran mama had been away in the Gulf himself.

In a city like Bengaluru, references to the ‘Gelf-returned’ are common, and mamas and chechis in the Gelf seemed a natural reality of friends from Kerala. Temporary People jolted me into new questions about the Gelf returnee. It turned the premise of the good-natured jokes around. What does it really mean to leave a place and go elsewhere, not as a single person, but in droves, over history; first in dhows and eventually from one of four international airports established for the purpose – an essential feature of both the homeland and the foreign economy? Read more

Source: The Wire

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