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Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishna

Regarding the politics of the modern world, few subjects compare to immigration. Discussions of assimilation, national identity, criminality, and terrorism in American media outlets almost daily. The stakes have been elevated for those who see immigrant communities as essential to the American experiment and woven into the very fabric of the American experience due to the rise of anti-immigration politicians in both the United States and Europe. Migrant populations in the United Arab Emirates are the focus of Deepak Unnikrishnan’s book Temporary People. Ultimately, Temporary People is about a group of people and a labour migration system exclusive to the Gulf.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), a country with a population comparable to New Jersey’s, has the fifth-highest number of foreign migrants of any country in the world. According to Unnikrishnan, the workers in the UAE do not feel like they are a part of the workforce even though foreign nationals make up 80 per cent of the resident population and 90 per cent of the crew, respectively. These unfamiliar people do not have the protection of citizenship, do not have any political representation, and are subject to the frequently arbitrary and harsh mandates of a system based on sponsorship. The short stories “gulf return” and “glossary” both focus on the experience of immigrants to some degree. In both accounts, common misunderstandings about life in a Gulf state are thoroughly addressed and refuted. Unnikrishnan shows how these hopes and ambitions quickly crumble in the region’s punishing heat and icy brutality. Many people travel to work in the Gulf nations with the high hopes of becoming wealthy and returning home with a luxurious lifestyle. Many venture out into the world on their own, only to return to their families in a coffin or as complete and utter strangers.

In the collection of short tales titled “gulf return,” immigrants are confronted with mobility issues to the point that they make plans to flee. In the brief story “gulf return,” three labourers plot and carry out their escape from a labour camp. Two workers disguise themselves as bags and passports, while the third worker carries them to the closest airport. As the workers at the departure terminal and board an aeroplane waiting for them, they consume anything and everything in their path, including fellow passengers, toilets, airline trolleys, wheels, wings, and luggage. Eventually, they become the plane itself, and the airport authorities pursue it as it finally takes off. According to Unnikrishnan, “The plane had begun taxiing down the runway, past other waiting aircraft, ignoring pleas from the Control Tower to desist, to wait a minute, to let’s talk this through, so what about the hostages, but the plane didn’t care, it went on its merry way, picking up speed, lifting its beak, tucking in its mighty wheels, returning its cargo.”(Gulf return pg6). This indicates how difficult life is in the gulf countries; people plan for escape due to the hardship they experience.

Throughout Temporary People, Unnikrishnan strongly emphasises the connection between language and social rank. In the dictionary of short stories in the story “Glossary,” an English-speaking Indian guy loses his tongue, grows limbs and “blue hair like a fountain pen,” and then ends up living on the streets. The tongue slams against the bus with such force that all of the youngster’s previously acquired vocabulary is flung into the air like pieces of shrapnel. Poocha, Burger, Arabee, Paksi, Veed, and Kus Umuk until Shurtha shows up and tries to revive the boy’s last comment in English (Glossary pg117). This tale demonstrates the power that may be contained within them. Freedom may be achieved via language in a manner that people cannot do alone. Unnikrishnan, for instance, suggests that one’s native tongue may directly indicate one’s political and economic position within the Emirates. Arabic is used in the government, British English is used in finance, and Philippine Tagalog is used in the service industry. These examples illustrate how each ethnic group has a job hierarchy that they cover, sometimes with hilariously exact details. This exemplifies the power that words have.

Moreover, immigrants are afraid of the government. In the short tale “Gulf Return,” the guy chose not to wait and ran as quickly as possible through the boarding door. (Gulf Return pg 5) This demonstrates that migrants risk their lives by fleeing rather than being apprehended. They are willing to sacrifice their lives to flee rather than be captured. Living in a nation that is neither your home nor the home of your ancestors may be a fascinating and enlightening experience. However, depending on the country you choose to call home during your time abroad, it can also be challenging.

In conclusion, Migrants who are often forced to leave behind their families and friends often spend their time dwelling on how much they miss everyone and pondering how life is going for the people they have left behind and how things might be different if they had never left. They make an effort every day to fully immerse themselves in the unfamiliar culture and the sometimes mysterious ways of living. Perhaps some of them are successful, but more often than not, they experience the feeling of being a spectator, looking on at others through a cloudy window, because factors such as the colour of their skin, their country of origin, or simply the language barrier prevent them from being an equal member of society. If they had access to other opportunities, many people would choose not to lead the lifestyle of living abroad, working in a country that will never accept them as equals, and performing jobs that put them in harm’s way. But sadly, a large number of people do not, and as a result, they are forced to accept employment conditions that are less than ideal to ensure that they and their families do not starve. However, because it is not happening in this country, many people are sadly unaware that it is happening anywhere else.

Work Cited

Unnikrishnan_Gulf Return (1).pdf

Unnikrishnan_Glossary (1).pdf


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