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The Year of the Runaways: Running away is not an option

The Year of the Runaways, which has been named in the Man Booker long list, provides a blow-by-blow account of the turmoil faced by Indian blue-collar workers in Europe, of the physical and mental agony that they endure so that they could earn a few bucks -- send them home and keep the loan sharks away.

books Updated: Aug 25, 2015 15:29 IST
Sowmya S
The Year of the Runaways provides a blow-by-blow account of the turmoil faced by Indian blue-collar workers in Europe.
The Year of the Runaways provides a blow-by-blow account of the turmoil faced by Indian blue-collar workers in Europe.

Book: The Year of the Runaways
Author: Sunjeev Sahota
Publisher: Picador India
Genre: Fiction
Price: Rs 599

You never appreciate how comfortable your home is, until you step out of it. Because, outside your home (and your hometown), you are a nobody. No one knows your name or bothers to care about you. It takes a long time (and not to mention immense courage) to make a city or town you just moved in, your home. And if you don't, your life in that city or town could possibly become a living hell.

Avtar, Randeep and Tochi are three such men from Sunjeev Sahota's The Year of the Runaways, who leave their hometowns in India and land up many miles away ---- in Sheffield, England ---- in search of jobs that could make their lives and that of their families back home a little better. (Except for Tochi, who had lost his family in a communal riot.) As they jump from one menial, thankless job to the other and keep a lookout for immigration officials who might send them packing, the three men experience several moments of utter despair:

Will I make enough to repay Bal for the loan on my dad's shop this month, or will he torture my parents back home? -- Avtar

Will Gurpreet bully me again? Would I be safe if I stayed in this dilapidated house that I call home, but is actually a hell hole? Or would he get drunk and kill me? -- Randeep

Will I sustain myself with the wages from this job? Or do I have to steal Avtar's job to make more money? -- Tochi

Despite working in the most inhuman conditions (including cleaning sewers and living on the streets, hoping that the gurdwara would provide at least one square meal) not once do they feel like throwing all of it away and returning to India.

Because, for people like Tochi, Avtar and Randeep, who have been sucked into the vicious circle of poverty, running away is never an option. And toiling every day and eating bits and pieces of roti and bread, however stale they might be, is nothing short of a compulsion.

The Year of the Runaways, which has been named in the Man Booker long list, provides a blow-by-blow account of the turmoil faced by Indian blue-collar workers in Europe (and possibly in several countries across the world), of the physical and mental agony that they endure so that they could earn a few bucks -- however few it might be, send them home and keep the loan sharks away.

The book is an illuminating social commentary on the alarming extent to which they are exploited abroad and on how virtually nothing has been done to make their lives a little better.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his address to a cheering crowd of Indian Diaspora in United Arab Emirates on Monday night, said India was proud of Indians working in the Arab nation.

If he half believed in what he said, he would go beyond clicking selfies with world leaders, lunching with businessmen, enjoying rides in fancy battery-powered, self-driving cars and actually do something to make the lives of people like Avtar, Tochi and Randeep a little less painful.

(The views expressed by the author are personal. She tweets @sowswamin)