| Dark satanic mills
Bound Together: How Traders, Preachers, Adventurers, and Warriors Shaped Globalization
By Nayan Chanda, Viking, Rs 525
This celebration of migration will touch a popular chord, for, as V.S. Naipaul says in A Writer’s People, millions of Indians liberated by independence look to the United States for fulfilment. “That is where the better jobs are, where Indians are well thought of, and that is where people of a certain level wish to live and marry — and make cookies and shovel snow off the pavement in winter — and educate their children.”
If the theme is a shrewd choice, so is the praise showered on N.R. Narayana Murthy of Infosys. The dividend is emblazoned on the cover, Narayana Murthy endorsing “a wonderful book … [a] must for every student of globalization”. Not that Bound Together is a handbook for migrants. Ostensibly, it seeks to elaborate or substantiate the Vasudhaiva kutumbakam aphorism quoted early on. But the only point of a treasure trove of stories and anecdotes — each interesting in itself — plucked from compendiums of general knowledge is to establish that “the clunky five-syllable globalization” boils down to the “myriad aspirations and apprehensions” of people on the march.
That might have served some purpose if used to argue that developed nations that promote globalization of goods and services cannot logically deny similar freedom of movement to manpower. Though mentioned in passing, there is no advocacy in this narrative that might displease influential authorities and audiences. Instead, a parade of traders and travellers distracts attention from the push factor that is a far more powerful reason than the romance of history or any mystic sense of connectivity for people to go wandering about the globe. Pretty stories seek to legitimize the existence of migrants who may not win the Nobel Prize for literature like Naipaul but crave a higher status than that of Indian labourers in Dubai or Singapore’s Filipino maids.
Not everyone is squeamish about facing up to this truth. Writing in The Hindu recently, Sudheer Marisetti, “a 41-year-old Indian, who lived in the United States for 18 years and returned with [his] family to live in Hyderabad one and a half years ago”, listed some “very good reasons” why “most Indians crave for US permanent residency [Green Card]”. He acknowledged “India is a better place [than America] for Indians with education, connections, belonging to the right community, and money. [But] it is still a struggle for many lower-middle and lower classes. For those of us who belonged to these sections, America gave us a break and lifted us to upper strata and now we return to enjoy the newly found status.”
That admission commands respect. Appetite for cookies and shovelling snow sated, Marisetti has enough affection for the humbler surroundings in which he was reared to return to them. For most others, abroad is a one-way ticket. Either they cannot bring themselves to forgo making cookies and shovelling snow or have nothing at home to return to, even to flaunt success.
Predictably, Naipaul, a child of the diaspora, is more cruel in analysing why Indians, this millennium’s professional migrants, remain dazzled by the prospect of making cookies and shovelling snow. Since “materialist India is materialist India, with no idea of its history or literature”, he would not be surprised at the author’s artless delight in the speed with which his son’s Apple iPod winged its way from Shanghai to Connecticut, or in Korean Air’s culinary cosmopolitanism. Such joys of globalization provoke Naipaul to reflect that “though there is much talk of the Indian diaspora, the only diaspora Indians care about is the one through which they might get a green card or a son-in-law or daughter-in-law with American citizenship”.
This saga begins with the exodus from Africa, traversing coastlines and crossing seas — why not just tramping across Gondwanaland' — and ends with some jejune comments on the current state of the world. The stories are far more interesting, if occasionally confusing.
Consider the following on page 77, “The search for technology to reduce the need for labour led to a series of inventions and finally to the opening of a water-powered cotton spinning mill in Cromford in 1771. The Industrial Revolution was launched. The town of Lancashire emerged as the symbol of the new industrial age with its ‘dark satanic mills’. And its marketing capital, Manchester, became ‘the first global industrial city — the “Cottonopolis” — of an industrial system whose tentacles spread across the globe’.”
Is Cromford “the town of Lancashire”' Or is Lancashire a town' If the latter, how can it have a “marketing capital”' As it happens, Cromford cannot be “the town of Lancashire” since it is in Derbyshire. And Lancashire is, of course, a county, though Manchester is, indeed, its marketing capital. As for William Blake’s immortal lines, “dark Satanic mills” are usually taken to refer to industrial Stockport, which is neither in Derbyshire nor Lancashire but Cheshire.
Legal eagles might murmur, Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus. No, not quite. It’s just too much unassimilated information confused in regurgitating a book of many examples and one message. Peter Drucker expressed it cogently when he wrote of the African craftsman who epitomizes internationalism. His materials, designs, sales agents and marketing outlets are scattered worldwide while he contentedly chisels away in his native village. But such a stay-at-home would defeat the purpose of this effusion.