Yesterday I was in a country three thousand miles from home. I first met Ravi here many weeks ago. Yesterday he and I conversed.
Ravi is the man whose job it was to bring me tea, coffee and water in the office.
Ravi is from Gujarat. He flew a thousand miles to bring me tea, coffee and water in the office.
He does his job with grace, with a smile.
Ravi is my age, perhaps a little younger. A schoolboy-esque uniform – a bow tie and waistcoat, no less – creates an illusion of youth. He is short and good looking (in that rural Indian style). His manner is charming. The way he tells his story shows flashes of deep intellect. He speaks Hindi, Gujarati, English and Arabic.
His family live in Gujarat, in a small, rural village where they grow things. His house is occupied by two young boys, a wife, a brother and a mum. He sees them for two months each year. He patiently waits ten months for the two. He misses his family when away, he argues with his wife and scolds his children when there.
Where he was yesterday, Ravi lives in accommodation with 5 other men. Between them, they share a kitchen and bathroom. Both are dirty and the bathroom smells. There is no air conditioning. Ravi loves to cook, and is the head chef in his group. Ravi’s specialities are meat-based curries. Overall, Ravi likes his gang. They have spaces to exercise and watch movies. He cannot read, he tells me. It was never a thing where he came from to read.
Ravi seemed content, happier than I expected him to be. I asked Ravi how he felt about the life he has built for himself. He took a second and then responded, flirting with two narratives as he gave his answer:
“I am a thousand miles away from Gujarat because I want to be. It is my opportunity. My children are in private schools. I am building a new house for my family. I have made new friends”.
“I am a thousand miles away from Gujarat because I am economically forced to be. There are no routes to prosperity in my world apart from this. My children are getting an education at the cost of time with their father. I am building a home for my family that I will not live in for ten months of the year. I do not see my old friends any more.”
I think for Ravi both of these stories are simultaneously true.
Like any economic migrant through history, Ravi is seeking opportunity: He is an entrepreneur and an explorer as a result of circumstance. There is a sense of duty that underpins this exploration: he has made the decisions he has for his family.
Then there is me.
Ravi is from Gujarat, as is my family. My family left several generations before his thousand mile journey. His did not.
My family left so I got an education. He did not.
My family left so I was bought up in a country with wealth that gave me citizenship. He was not.
My family left so he was the one serving tea rather than I.
This is not to say my life is better or happier, but that it has afforded me a greater set of opportunities, less imperative to make coercive choices and provided me with a viable option to stay at home. My life, shaped by forces out of my control.