Home is Ghar

13 Aug

The memory is this: a South Asian man, country unknown, sweeping the side of a Gulf street. He wears a rag to cover his head, minimal protection from the hot sun that beats down on his dark skin. Highlighted by the sweat that trickles down his brow, he glistens in the light.

I don’t really know why this image sticks in my mind above others, only that I saw many such men growing up in Abu Dhabi. Most of them remained anonymous, despite them sitting behind tills at the corner-shops, irrigating parks, driving school buses, serving poolside lunches; the silent backbone of a society. I never really questioned their presence there, their ability to keep trudging through the racism, low wages, and daily disregard. I simply believed what those around me did, that what they left behind in their own countries must have been awfully hard for them to come here and choose this life.

Today, I am here, in the poorest of Indian villages. Rice paddies, vegetable patches, the view of greenery continuing as far as the eye can see: breathtaking fertility almost personified by the amount of young children running around. The agricultural activities here are mainly undertaken by women who farm the land, leaving the men – husbands, brothers, fathers- to migrate. With most not having had the opportunity of further education, they have no choice but to take on menial jobs for relatively little pay.

I have learned a bit more about the complexities of migration from South Asia since my Abu Dhabi days, but it varies hugely throughout different regions and the terms used to describe the phenomenon can be quite confusing. From what I can gather however, human trafficking from South Asia, though understandably dramatised, is very often ‘voluntary’ (in the most loose sense of the term) and the basis of it all is quite simple. Like most of what is going in the world today, migration in itself stems from a fundamental need, which is that of social and economic independence. And so it is clear that the reasons for leaving, the reasons to search for more, are really rooted in love and hope, for family and community betterment. But it is also clear that there is a huge amount to be gained here in Uttar Pradesh, with untapped resources and opportunities rooted in this land and its people.

I can’t assume that I can understand the loss caused by migration, nor will I try to. Yet, being here in a village that has been left behind but which still has so much to offer, feels like coming to terms with a part of the bigger picture. I grew up using Hindi and Urdu words like Sida to direct taxi drivers to go straight ahead, but only today have I learned the word Ghar, which means Home.

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