The last moments of a dying spring

For the many thousands of immigrants who crossed over from their home continents, the European dream is rapidly falling apart. This is year 2012 and in many ways, serving right for all that the lunar calendar had foreseen or for that horror show of a movie which came out by the same name. Stories of crumbling economies, spurts in unemployment, pink slips, relocation and the like hound the headlines and quite frankly, its depressing to hear these first thing in the morning. Today, I have a few characters to acquaint you with and also their lives which as always, have some stories to say (hopefully not long enough to make you yawn, but indicative of what is happening around this part of the world) .

I start with the two guys I meet in this Indian restaurant quite regularly – Prem and Rasheed. They work in the restaurant. Prem is quite new to Lisbon, three years since he came here while Rasheed has been around for 7. Prem is a funny guy, speaks broken Hindi (he is originally from Nepal), thinks he is a stud, speaks Portuguese quite decently as well as the job involves interacting with the customers on a regular basis. He is an electronics engineer who one day hopes to study further. One of my first questions to him is the cliched Indian mentality of asking – You say you are an engineer. How did you land up in the kitchen of an Indian restaurant? To which he said that he landed up in Lisbon in the end of 2008, hoping to find a suitable work profile in Europe. Portugal because, firstly it was cheaper with easier visa processing formalities and the electronics/ telecommunications had witnessed quite a boom in the mid 2000s, along with the rest of the world. He later realized that the timing of his arrival in Lisbon coincided with the start of the global  recession and the ensuing European crisis. Ended up in a restaurant and never got out of it. He is leaving for home on Tuesday for the first time since the end of 2009 (He says he used to earn twice as much in 2008, when comparing to his salary at the present moment) saving up a little over 700 euros after 3 years of work.

Rasheed worked 11 years around Europe and was finally able to bring his wife to stay along with him, 6 months back. His kids are still in Pokhara (his wife hails from Pokhara, Nepal). Unlike Prem, he hasn’t seen the doors of university although took a loan from his step father to get into Europe in the wake of making an easy buck or two. Not a bad thought although it is strictly  reminiscent of the immigrant issues countries like Greece and United Kingdom are protesting against. Back in 2001, there was no real pressure in stemming the exodus of people towards Europe or the United States and so he survived, As things got worse concluding in the global recession and the recent eurozone crisis, he saw his salary dip to a third of what it was in 2006. He could save up a bit to ensure he went home four times in the last 11 years.

The third person Irfanuddin, the Pakistani father of 3 from Karachi runs a small supermarket in the avenue where I stay, is contemplating on going back to his motherland. His eldest son enters college this year and he couldn’t afford to put him into a good university in Pakistan despite the boy being brilliant. Even after being in Lisbon for 9 straight years, he couldn’t afford to give the boy a sum of 2500 euros to ensure his admission and the poor guy was obviously distraught when I met him last weekend. Sometimes I feel bad that I am compelled from deep down to purchase a few things from him despite them being a few cents costlier than the others. These days he says, all that he earns by keeping the store open from 0900 to 0000 is 40 euros, most of which happens by the sale of tobacco.

Most of the Indian graduates studying in the United Kingdom or majority of the European Union and United States are force – returned home as a counter measure adopted by these countries to counter the immigrant mess. The criteria for getting a work visa and/or employment in the United Kingdom is bound by a cyclic criteria, which shall eventually shut out hopes for a non – EU/ UK citizen. The stories can go on and on – be it be the Indian guy with an immobile right hand who wanted to find work in Europe returning empty handed (because nobody in his right frame of mind would engage a guy with only one hand, any work when there are countless others walking without any job at hand) to this Latin american guy I know who decided to get married to a Portuguese to make himself legal in the country.

European societies are highly multi – cultural, so there is enough scope for a cross continental wedding to save your life, if you are up for it. And I do see a lot of couples around me who are open to this, one way or another. And I belong to a country where, forget being from the same state, the partner might have to pass through the caste filter to make things legal. Anyways, that is a debate for a different day although quite note worthy of the changing notions of union and also reflective of the times that we are in, today. Coming to think of it from the point of view of the nations involved, it makes perfect sense to react the way they have been responding to the hard times by having more stringent immigrant policies. Most nations revel in bringing populist measures, which is easily anti – immigrants because they want to give higher chances for their youth, in comparison with a foreigner. And that indeed happens to be the right way to go about it.  [This was not supposed to be a rant, just in case you missed that in the midst of all this.]

But what is sad is when talented professionals are given no choice but to become the Prems of tomorrow, having to do something in order to ensure there is sustenance. I can authoritatively say that almost 80% of the new recruits are not happy with their current job profiles, but nobody wants to throw it away because you are not sure, when can you land up on a more suitable profile for work. So, for the next 4-5 years, we might very well be witness to MBA’s working in the kitchens of McDonald’s to make a quick buck, of more and more people turning into academia as a means of surviving the rough seas (most academic positions ensure you get a stipend, deemed fit enough to survive), Africans and Latinos marrying Europeans and Americans and vice versa for getting the documents which make them legal  [not the most apt, but indicative enough to get the hang of what is meant] and more of these kind of questions by eager individuals trying to survive the grind. The optimist will always push the individual showing light 5 years ahead of him which shall or shall not be necessarily true, the pessimist will conclude the world will end on 21/12/2012 and the realist will concur that there sure was a spring, (which will explain the exodus) and that it doesn’t exist anymore.

PS: Reading into a lot of conspiracy theories lately, it gives me a feeling that our existence and these tough times right now are part of a major conspiracy theory boiling over.  Major major conspiracy theory!

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