This is a story that falls through the crevices of pitiless anonymity, yet miraculously waits to be told.
Shijukutty, a Malayali fisherman, leaves his tiny hamlet of abject poverty in the coastal village of Vizhinjam on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city of Kerala, that picturesque vignette of searing beauty on the south-western coast of India.
Shiju, like millions of other Malayalis, seeks his destiny in Dubai, that gleaming global hub of fortune on the southeast coast of the Persian Gulf. What unfolds is a stirring story of distilled hardship, exploitation, identity, and friendship, and the heart-breaking choices Shiju is often forced to make.
So what he sees is not what he experiences when he lands in a world of glimmering towers, fast-paced life, and unabashed opulence. For what he was not prepared for was the dark underbelly of Dubai beyond the shimmering mirage.
Shiju’s life is no more the same. But he holds his ground, drawing on ancient instincts of his seafaring ancestry. As things settle down around him, he is inexorably pulled into the canyon of recession…
Will Shiju be able to hold on to his dreams? Will he able to pull out himself from the whirlpool? Will he survive against all odds? Will he redeem himself?
The 365 Days weaves a captivating tale about the countless Indians and other South-East Asian migrant labourers, who, in seeking to forge their destinies on that gleaming promontory of dreams, end up colliding with forces beyond their reckoning.
Nikhil Ramteke unfolds an extraordinary saga about Indian expatriates, their struggles, their alienation, and their dreams. The 365 Days is more than a story of a year in Shijukutty’s life.
“Memories were of the essence at the Camp where we lived from vignette to vignette.”
The protagonist, Shijukutti is sucked into the glamorous mirage of Dubai. Fortified with nothing but dreams and hopes, he banks on securing a future for his family. Thus, the son of the sea takes a monolithic leap into the desert entrapment. He lands in an insensate labour accommodation camp, tethered to an iron-clad employment contract and submerges in drastic living conditions with six thousand others who suffer a similar fate. After getting conned by his own kith, he snakes through the venomous ordeals that will reshape his future forever.
The characters echo formidable tales and I got to live a piece of their lives through the author’s words. There was clarity in the display and depiction of emotions. In all likelihood, the poor are pitilessly scammed while the rich are handed a whiplash. It is tyranny infused with slavery.
The trauma and terror of the characters were deeply seeded into my brain. Sketched out with a reality so striking and intimate, the characters managed to sing their feelings with ease. An effortless intrusion into my heart and leeching out blood until there wasn’t a drop left. The venomous truth of the labourers in the Camp mirrored that of the deranged prison inmates. The word that constantly erupts throughout the book, it constricts your lungs, burns your eyes, ushering the tears with ease. Consider it welcoming!
The cover girl poster for Dubai will always be the scintillating sky-scrapers on the Sheikh Zayed Road, the ethnic scented souqs and the vivacious malls. This dreary side of the city is on the outskirts and it is frightening. And the chaos is contained professionally as the authority prevails with an iron fist. As the workers are transported from the living quarters to the workplace, they are (forgotten) lambs taken to the slaughterhouse. Nothing is worse than leaving behind familiarity. The simple pleasures of life, the warmth of the flesh of their kin, the scent of their partners, everything.
All the characters were insufferable (especially Jabbar Chettah) and special in their own way. The bond Shiju forms with Thavamani is a tear-jerker. And the former’s witty thoughts added the much-needed satire in the book.
The author had cleverly instilled a metaphorical approach in the book, balancing the elements of water and earth. He draws a stark contrast between the tossing and engulfing waves to the drudges and constricting grains of the desert (What the sea gives, the sand takes away!). Although the poetic rhythm of the lines remained intact throughout the material, there was a distinct overload of facts.
“Every night I would go to bed daydreaming. The morning after, in the light of reality and logic, everything would seem meaningless. Life was predictable and mechanical. Life was a handful of sand.”
Everyone’s dreadful fears were elucidated generously. The story was armed with beautifully described emotions and relatable thought processes of the characters and will keep you glued to it until the very end.
My little anecdote:
Dubai, the city of dreams, succumbed to the insuperable glitterati. Growing up in ‘Dream City’ was thought to be a privilege. The begrudging kin in our native country assumed we sprawled in a bed of cash. Nope, it was not a cake-walk like they imagine it (for a certain section of the expatriates). I can safely say that my dad bled out sweat to support our family and we survived with the measly pleasures enchanting our lives. The struggle is very real and those with the jingling pockets got away with it all. They are the party-goers, spendthrifts, cutlery clinkers at the Michelin star restaurants, admirers of the smooth skin of belly dancers and much more.
My mom always told me that the life of a labourer was miserable as he slaved away for the prosperity of his family. Abandoning the love, comforts of his home, family and intimate relations with his beloved. The sacrifice oozes out in the form of sweat and blood. And the repercussions of their inconceivable decision adversely alter their lives (forever). I picked this book from Amazon.in because it reminded me of my second home (Dubai).
“The salt and the brine of the sea are magically therapeutic. So I shall heal.”
Note: The blurb is borrowed from Goodreads.