England is in news for an immigration issue where it is considering a law which would require those from a select group of countries (including India) to furnish 3000 pound as refundable bond as a warranty against overstay of visa period. Thankfully it has been dropped now. But the fact that the British government insisted on it suggests that England has long dealt with the immigration problem. (Alas, all big countries have but have reacted more soberly to it.)
That was the reason why I picked up The Professional (by Ashok Ferry): it promised a story about the immigrant experience in England not set in recent times but in the 80s. But that’s okay with me.
The Professional involves a narrative form I have come to like - where the narrative moves back and forth in time to cover a character’s past and present, with the past quietly explaining the reader what led to his present circumstances. The Professional narrates the story of Chamath seen through his older self 35 years later. Chamath, an Oxford alumnus, has applied for his residency permit and he is banned to work until he gets it.
And the only option to earn a living is the unorganized sector. In the meantime, Chamath’s father sends him a letter from Srilanka expressing his inability to send Chamath money and asking him to let out their flat in London which was bought some time back. Chamath finds an employment at a construction site where one day he is approached by two men who promise him good money for very little work. And thus starts Chamath’s dual life: a male escort in the evening and a construction site worker in the morning. His life in the evening takes him to people seeking company and pleasure and finally brings him to a couple who become his friends and benefactors.
The Professional moves back and forth in time effortlessly and describes the world of a young Chamath, in London, and old, in Srilanka, quite well. It shows both sides of the immigrant experience: how is it for an immigrant to stay without a permanent resident status and the sacrifices parents make to send and educate their children abroad.
On the downside, however, the book moves from one narrative method to another without sometimes any change in content style to indicate the digression. Another thing that disappointed is that it documents the immigrant experience well, telling its highs and lows. But its synopsis promises more. The synopsis says the book would take you through the Thatcher years, England’s years of greed, as the synopsis puts it.
But the story says very little about those years. The book informs that Chamath met with some prosperity as a real estate agent in later years which coincided with Thatcher rule and leaves it at that without detailing those years.
Detailing how he moved to prosperity would have been a good way to end the story on a more conclusive note; instead, the story ends Chamath’s England stay abruptly and later, in an epilogic fashion, informs what Chamath did in his later years in England, that he became a prosperous real estate person. It was my first book by a Srilankan writer and I liked it generally.