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The 12 worst workplaces in contemporary literature

From office drones occupying bland white cubicles of repressed misery in Corporate America to unwanted, but necessary, guest workers toiling in the hot sands of Abu Dhabi, these 12 contemporary books skewer corporate culture and reveal the inevitable result of a capitalistic society that views workers as anonymous, replaceable cogs in a never-ending pursuit of profit.

Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishan

Temporary People is a work of fiction set in the UAE, where I was raised and where foreign nationals constitute over 80 percent of the population. It is a nation built by people who are eventually required to leave,” prefaces the author. In these 28 interlinked stories and poems, Unnikrishnan combines Malayalam, Arabic, and English to encapsulate the dissonance of these displaced guest workers straddled between two countries and breaking their backs for a country that they can never call home. The displacement and dehumanization of these perpetual foreigners manifests as metamorphoses: a migrant moonlights as a mid-sized hotel, a runaway shape-shifts into a suitcase and a sultan grow “ideal” workers with a twelve-year shelf life from pods. One chapters contains only a list of occupations “Tailor. Hooker. Horse Looker. Maid.” and ends with “Cog. Cog? Cog.” With anti-migrant sentiment at an all time high, Temporary People is a timely and necessary exploration of how “temporary status affects psyches, families, memories, fables, and language(s).”

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Writing Matters: In conversation with Deepak Unnikrishnan

By Michelle D’costa

Deepak Unnikrishnan’s book Temporary People won the 2017 Hindu Prize and was the inaugural winner of the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing, 2016. He teaches at New York University Abu Dhabi.

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(Photo credit: Philip Cheung)

Michelle D’Costa: Do you feel labelled as an ‘immigrant’ writer? Do you want to break free from it or do you wear it with pride?

Deepak Unnikrishnan: I don’t have any control over what people call me. Depending on where I go, people call me different things. In Abu Dhabi, I am Indian because I look Indian. In Kerala, I am an NRI, because NRIs have a way about them, so I’ve been told. In the States, I am brown enough to be brown, but certainly not American enough, whatever that means. To the best of my knowledge, no one has labelled me as an immigrant writer yet. So at the moment, I’d say there’s little to break free from.

However, if we’re talking about life, and someone is simply labelling me an immigrant or a migrant, and I sense fire and condescension in the labelling, then you bet, brother, immigrant I am, migrant I stay. Deal with it, and me.

Michelle: How do you think your fiction stands out from other American immigrant fiction like that of Akhil Sharma, Celeste Ng, Jhumpa Lahiri, etc. (apart from the magical realism)?

Deepak: I don’t identify as American, but calling me Indian doesn’t hold true either. My parents are Indian and I was fortunate enough to land in the States. Your question has got more to do with how I see myself if I were to compare myself to writers who come from families that have moved from one nation to another for a myriad of reasons. You’re also asking me to compare myself to writers who have already made their bones. That’s probably not fair to them or your readership.

But let me say I am perfectly comfortable and confident in the knowledge I don’t write like any of the names you’ve listed. This does not mean I’m better than them, or feel I’m not worthy enough to compare my craft to theirs. Frankly, my stuff does not sound or read like their material. Deepak Unnikrishnan writes like Deepak Unnikrishnan. And sure, Ng, Lahiri and Sharma confront the immigrant experience, but their writings are also layered. They deserve to be seen as writers, period; American writers, period; good writers, period.

Michelle: Gulf immigrant fiction is scarce. You have attempted to address it with your latest collection ‘Temporary People’.  Do you see yourself writing on the same theme even 10 years later?

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Living an unreal dream

By Vani Saraswathi

temporary peopleThe book is a political manifesto cleverly disguised as fiction

Pravasi means you’ll have regrets […] it’s always meant: absence. Those words of an aged mother who yearns for her son sums up the essence of almost all the stories in Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan.

The tempering of English with Malayalam and Arabic, and in the tone and angst of the narrative, the book is first and foremost an ode to the Gulf Malayalee.

Maybe if read by someone with zero Gulf experience the book would have drawn a few loud laughs. For someone who has been a Pravasi, the humour is so dark, you are tempted to throw away this book and reach out for Ulysses for some lighter reading. Only temporarily, just like the people. Read more

Source: The Hindu


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

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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New Release: Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan

temporary peopleIn the United Arab Emirates, foreign nationals constitute over 80 percent of the population. Brought in to construct and  serve the towering monuments to wealth that punctuate the skylines of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, this labor force is not given the  option of citizenship. Some ride their luck to good fortune. Others suffer different fates. Until now, the humanitarian crisis of the so- called “guest workers” of the Gulf  has  barely been addressed in fiction. With his stunning, mind-altering  debut novel Temporary People, published by Simon & Schuster India, Deepak Unnikrishnan delves into their histories, myths, struggles, and triumphs.

Combining the linguistic invention of Salman Rushdie and  the satirical vision of George Saunders, Unnikrishnan presents twenty-eight linked stories that careen from construction workers who shapeshift into luggage and escape a labor camp, to a woman who stitches back together the bodies of those who’ve fallen from buildings in progress, to a man who grows ideal workers designed to live twelve years and then perish—until they don’t, and found a rebel community in the desert. With this polyphony of voices, Unnikrishnan maps a new, unruly  global English and gives personhood back to the anonymous workers of the Gulf.

About the Author:

deepakDeepak Unnikrishnan is a writer from Abu Dhabi and a resident of the States, who has lived in Teaneck, New Jersey, Brooklyn, New York and Chicago, Illinois. He has studied and taught at the Art Institute of Chicago and presently teaches at New York University Abu Dhabi.

Temporary People, his first book, was the inaugural winner of the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing.