This article explores migration, styles of masculinity and male trajectories through the life-cycle in Kerala, South India, which has a long history of high migration, most lately to the Persian Gulf states. It has been suggested that the experience of migration between different geographical localities by those who migrate, people located simultaneously inside and outside cultures and societies, embodies a wider contemporary condition in which binarisms and essentialisms are replaced by an appreciation of hybridity, dislocation and multiplicity (Bhabha 1994; Chambers 1994; Clifford 1997; Gilroy 1993; Hall 1997; Rosaldo 1989). In turn, the multiple location of migrants challenges notions of exclusive, bounded, collective identities and oppositions, such as those of the modern nation-state.This has been a basis for concepts of non-hierarchical social forms, such as the ‘rhizome’ (Deleuze & Guattari 1987), the ‘reticulum’ (Kearney 1995), or spaces in between, such as the ‘third space’ (Bhabha 1994) and the ‘mid-Atlantic’ (Gilroy 1993) (see also Hall: 1996; Kaplan 1997: 143 ff.). This view of migration has alerted us to the possibility that identities might not be exclusive, bounded and set once for all (cf. Gupta & Ferguson 1992). However, ethnographies of migrant communities have revealed that identity entails a more complex articulation between hybridity and essentialism (cf. Baumann 1996; Frankenberg & Mani 1997; Friedman 1997; van der Veer 1997;Werbner & Modood 1997).
Here we suggest some ways in which migration may be integrated and feed into local frameworks of self and subjectivity, in this case life-cycle and © Royal Anthropological Institute 2000. J. Roy. anthrop. Inst. (N.S.) 6, 117–133 recognized masculine statuses and identities. Migration may accelerate an individual’s progress along a culturally idealized trajectory towards mature manhood; it may accentuate characteristics already locally associated with essentialized categories of masculinity.This suggests that we need to be careful about reading into migration the understandings which recent theories have brought us. Migration may help understand fragmented selves, but it is by no means the case that fragmented selves are necessarily involved in all migration. Even unstable and fragmented selves are framed in action within local essentialisms: as Herzfeld suggests,‘the presence of agency only becomes apparent through the essentialising practices that give it form’ (1997: 144). We also argue, however, that in contrast to literature placing Indian men neatly into role-defined categories (e.g. householder, renouncer or priest, e.g. Madan 1982; 1987), or suggesting unified projects of ‘male dominance’ (Derné 1995), there are many arenas and styles of masculinity and a series of subject positions available to South Indian men, as yet mostly still to be explored (see e.g. Mines 1994). Male identities are continually negotiated between various positions as men pick their way through competing demands and maintain precarious balances (see e.g. Cornwall & Lindisfarne 1994;
Loizos & Papataxiarchis 1991). At the same time, fragmented male identities are dialectically related to dominant essentialized notions of how successful mature men should be and behave in specific contexts and arenas. In sum, where fragmentation exits, this is not the result of migration, but because (gendered) identities are anyway fragmented (Kondo 1990; Moore 1994); at the same time identities are essentialized and de-fragmented in local projects of self-making (Baumann 1996; Herzfeld 1985; 1997).
The prototypical Kerala migrant to the Gulf is successful and above all wealthy, and represents the aspirations of many Malayali payyanmar (young males). Four important local essentialized categories emerge.1 The first, the gulfan, refers to the migrant during his periodic visits home and immediately upon return. A transitional and individualistic figure, defined largely through relationships to cash and consumption, he is typically a deracinated and not fully mature male needing to be brought back into village life. During the period of reintegration and movement towards maturity following return, the gulfan must tread a balance between two extremes. One is the pavam, the unsuccessful man who dissipates wealth by over-scrupulous observance of social obligations and consequently lacks the means to support dependents and demonstrate personal masculine prestige. The other is the kallan, the antisocial individualist who, refusing to honour social obligations, remains asocial and deracinated. A fourth category is related to the classic Indian ethnographic figure of the householder and is unmarked, the widespread cross-community ideal of the successful, social, mature man: a head of a household holding substantial personal wealth, supporting many dependents and helping many clients.
These styles connote time: kallan, pavam and successful patron-householder are possible resolutions of the returning gulfan’s dilemma. They also connote the male life-cycle: first-time Gulf migrants are typically young and unmarried; return at the end of an initial period of migration goes along with marriage, maturity and movement towards adult status. Attribution of full adult male status requires continual demonstrations of competence in both 118 FILIPPO OSELLA & CAROLINE OSELLA masculinity and maturity; achievement of dominant masculinity requires more than mere competence. Displays of substantial cash wealth emerge as important displays of masculine power and agency which need to be expressed within a framework of maturity, specifically buddhi (intelligence or powers of discrimination, wisdom).
We based this article on three years of fieldwork between 1989 and 1996 in Valiyagramam (pseudonym), a multi-community rural panchayat in South Kerala, characterized by a rapidly expanding middle class, a small and declining elite, and a substantial and increasingly impoverished working-class sector, comprising many who work precariously as casual day labourers.
Migration has been a significant feature of life in Valiyagramam, as in Kerala as a whole, for more than a century (Lewandowski 1980; Matthew & Nair 1978; Menon 1994: 15; Oberai et al. 1989), a common response to slump and famine and chronic unemployment. The economic boom within the Gulf countries gave international migration a considerable boost, reaching its peak in terms of both numbers and remittances between 1979 and 1984 (Amjad 1989: 4; Birks et al. 1986; Nayyar 1989: 107). It is estimated that in 1983 half of Indians working in the Gulf states were from Kerala (Nair 1989: 343).2 In 1980–1, the height of Gulf migration, Gulf revenues were estimated to constitute over a quarter of Kerala’s GDP, rising to a half in areas of high migration (Kurien 1994: 765). In one of Valiyagramam’s neighbourhoods, typical of the village as a whole, migrants are 27 per cent of the total male working population (461 men); while 36 per cent of total migrants are working in the Gulf.3 To these figures have to be added an even greater number of people who have resettled in the village after migration and are either self-employed (as petty traders, money lenders, travel agents or lorry drivers) or live from the interest from their investments and bank accounts.
Valiyagramam Gulf migration fits the Kerala profile: migrants are almost exclusively male, typically below 35, unmarried or recently married and with education at, or below, SSLC (Secondary School Leaving Certificate) level (Gulati 1983: 2218; Matthew & Nair 1978; Nair 1986: 72; Prakash 1978). Migration periods are usually limited because of legal constraints in the Gulf state, and those in unskilled or semi-skilled jobs – the majority – have difficulties in obtaining long-term contracts and visas. Migration consists of a series of stretches in the Gulf, on average four to six years, alternating with periods in the village between contracts (Addleton 1992: 86; Ballard 1986: 20;
Gunatilleke 1986: 2; Nair 1986: 87). Families are usually left behind. A substantial part of migrants’ earnings are either remitted regularly or brought back as savings at the end of the period of migration.
Unlike other types, Gulf migration offers to some the chance of rapid and vast accumulation of wealth by village standards. Gulf migrants cannot settle away but must, sooner or later, return home, where their newfound wealth and access to consumption may dramatically alter their status and their relationships with others, and offer them the chance to forge new identities.
Migrants’ life in the Gulf is, to a large extent, an extension of village life. Returning to Kerala only every two or three years, migrants in Dubai, Sharja or Muscat join large Malayali communities, where they have access to food items imported daily from Kerala; they can watch Malayali satellite channels and the latest Malayali films; they can read daily Malayali newspapers and go to see performances of popular Malayali artists. Responding to questions about the assumed difficulties of dislocation, migrants pointed out that they live in the Gulf in fairly segregated zones, serviced by shops run by Malayalis which sell all conceivable Kerala produce. While migrants are physically separated from Kerala and their families, dislocation is mitigated and they are unlikely to be completely deracinated from the web of social relations and cultural practices they have left behind.
Most importantly here, Gulf migration has begun to play a crucial role in movements along the male life-cycle. As most work available locally is temporary manual labour associated with poverty and untouchability, young men face either the unpalatable alternative of taking on a demeaning occupation, or the prospect of unemployment. Moreover, with no reliable source of income, marriage opportunities are limited and chances of making a good match nil. A recent rise in marriage ages of both men and women reflects not only a rise in the number of young people staying in education to secondary and tertiary level, but also a problem posed by lack of ready employment among young men. Thus, migrating to the Gulf does not only spell an escape from unemployment, but is also a move away from payyanhood (young immature status) towards full adult status as a householder, defined by the combination of marriage, fatherhood and showing ability as a ‘provider’ (C. Osella & F. Osella forthcoming). The first step along this road is the accumulation and display of cash.
Men and money
Cash is prominent in many arenas of local life: at festivals, cash donations collected around the neighbourhood go at the front of the procession, held aloft for all to see; celebrations are marked by giving cash gifts; a popular necklace design is the pavan-mala, a string of gold sovereigns; fake paper US $100 notes are available in local stationery shops.To policy-makers’ and planners’ dismay, there is no compulsion to convert cash or invest in productive activity. Most commonly, Gulf migrants’ money is invested in itself: those with large amounts operate private loan companies (locally known as blades; cf. Nair 1989: 348); money is invested in small amounts as life assurance policies, bonds or other forms of financial capital; the bulk of a family’s cash assets are usually kept relatively liquid, in short-term fixed-deposit bank accounts. It is for its unique liquidity and ease of movement that cash is so valuable, making a large bank balance not only a sign of wealth but specifically a promise of cash richness (cf. Price 1996: 100 ff .; Rao et al. 1992: 72 ff.).
People keep large amounts of cash in the house, and move it around in complex loans and transactions. Cash is an important sign of success and masculinity: a man is someone with liquidity, not just assets. Holding land and owning property is important, but so too is command over cash, and wealth is a central requirement in most styles of masculinity. In some styles, especially 120 FILIPPO OSELLA & CAROLINE OSELLA associated with younger men, the source of wealth, while not irrelevant, is of lesser importance than the amount. Money which is ‘New’, Gulf-earned, gained through running a blade, achieved by hard labour and saving, or even via semi-legal means, is all good money (cf. Parry & Bloch 1989: 23 ff.). Illegal money, such as comes from smuggling or cheating on a property deal, is at least better than no money at all. The very many young Hindus who are increasingly willing to make money in any way possible present a radical challenge to family and community insistence on the primacy of manam (dignity, status) and an orientation towards the symbolic capital of ‘salaried government job’ (cf. Heuze 1992: 23). Migration helps maintain one’s prestige by concealing one’s occupation and by splitting the moment and site of wealth accumulation from its moment of consumption, enabling and encouraging a focus upon the result, cash earned.
Some ambivalances stem from attitudes towards consumption and display embedded in different styles of masculinity. Brahmin men disdain, at least publicly, accumulation of material wealth, focusing instead on possession of ritual knowledge and education. Among older men from communities involved in long-term mobility strategies, such as ‘small’ Christians and Izhavas, a man is expected to enjoy his wealth but not to deplete it and should continue to work as long as he is able.Younger men dream of massive wealth as a means of resolving tensions between conformity to the older generation’s accumulative impulse and the dominant spending ethos. A common Christian criticism of Nayars, the older generation of which largely try to live up to the dominant ‘spending’ aesthetic, is that, ‘They would sell all their properties and ruin themselves in order to celebrate Onam (new year) with show’. Amongst high-caste Hindus, assets may be sold if necessary to obtain hard cash. It is common practice to sell land to raise dowry money rather than giving the land itself as dowry. At the other end of the social spectrum, low-caste agricultural labourers display a transient attitude towards wealth. When money is available, for example after the paddy harvest, it should not be accumulated but enjoyed, treating male friends to the toddy-shop, and buying presents of clothes and expensive food items for wife and children.
In the mainstream among men of all communities with an eye for local status and power games, the accumulation of wealth and its display and mobilization in (often expensive) prestige-enhancing spending activities go hand in hand. Importantly, accumulation and spending set performance hierarchies of manliness, and the feminization of those who are not playing the game or, far worse, lose. In Kerala it is cash itself that carries the main functions of wealth that Ferguson (1985: 661) described for Lesotho pastoralists who convert cash to cattle and count cattle as male wealth: establishing a husband as household ‘head’ and providing tangible, visible support, even in his absence; acting as ‘placeholder’ for the migrant male, asserting symbolic presence in the face of absence; involving a man in relations of patronage and reciprocity which may enhance prestige. Following Taussig (1997: 129 ff .), we note that cash is particularly suited to act as a fetish and effect magical transformations.
Cash is a magical substance.While cash, like gold, is of wide importance in Kerala, cash appears, like gold, to have a particular gendered angle: as gold is especially associated with women, cash appears especially linked with men.
Wealthy men make large cash donations to temples and churches, the names and amounts recorded on noticeboards and in the printed festival calendar booklets distributed to houses. When a group of men go drinking together, Rs 100 notes will be flashed and masculine prestige gained by paying for rounds; men with money in their hands will subsidize an entire evening’s drinking and eating. Male sociality demands generous spending, even excess. In this respect, it is not surprising that successful Gulf migrants, those who have access to and flaunt considerable amounts of cash, are commonly represented as hyper-masculine, an effect magnified by rumours of their feminine conquests and drinking sessions in the Gulf, and often maintained to some extent by behaviour on return trips home.
Cash is then a signifier of masculine status, notes reckoning the worth of a man. This relation between men and money can be traced in several directions. A young man’s value is calculated in monetary terms (how much dowry he can command) on the marriage market; a mature man’s value is at least partly reckoned by his earning power, concretized in banknotes, which may be left raw or converted into other forms of objectified personhood. Money has no essential nature: life-cycle rites provide opportunities for self-enhancing public cash spending and gifting (Werbner 1990). At weddings, the bride’s brother or cousin takes pride of place as he arrives with a black briefcase stuffed full of notes: the dowry. Since provision of dowry is officially a fraternal responsibility, the briefcase’s contents speak directly of his status. Wedding gifts, presented during the ceremony are strictly gendered: women conventionally give cooking pots or (more lately) household items (ornaments, tea-sets) to the bride; men give cash gifts to the groom.Women’s gifts link women, via other women, to the hearth and kitchen; men’s cash gifts represent something more masculine passed from male guests to the groom.
We are arguing that migration is a means of bridging a gap between payyanhood and manhood. The gulfan is a figure spanning this transitional period: he belongs to an intermediate category, not yet fully adult but with a central characteristic of adult maleness, money. Focus on cash as the defining characteristic of failed or successful gulfans, and the focus on the consumer items brought and the expenditure while on visits at home, articulate with an idealized male life-cycle. Given that most gulfans begin their migration as young bachelors, leaving the village as immature youths (payyanmar), visits home are opportunities to demonstrate not only financial, but also age and gender-related progress. Consumer goods accumulated in the parental home will eventually form part of the gulfan’s own household on marriage. Displays of substantial cash reassures onlookers that he is becoming a man of means, with resources to support a wife and children; marriage usually follows the second or third home visit.
Perfect exemplars of the gulfan exist only on the cinema screen and in books, not surprisingly in view of the impossible demands of inexhaustible wealth and never-ending spending sprees, but the ideal is the dominant aspiration for most young men.The Gulf migrant has joined the cast of stock 122 FILIPPO OSELLA & CAROLINE OSELLA characters in popular cinema, novels, magazine stories, travelling theatre and (vernacular) television serials (e.g. Nair & Mohamed 1993). He is something between a hero and a fool, glamourized and ridiculed.
In popular films and plays, the returning gulfan is invariably portrayed arriving by taxi from the airport, the car loaded with boxes and parcels. He wears a designer shirt, white trousers and the latest sports shoes. He smokes foreign cigarettes and wears Ray-Ban sunglasses. On one wrist he has a gold bracelet, on the other a gold watch and around his neck a weighty gold chain. When the boxes are opened, television sets, stereos, video-recorders, electrical kitchen gadgets, fridges and washing machines come out. His house is, inevitably, new and concrete-made; inside, video, television and stereo are on full display. Every night he drinks with his friends the ‘Johnny Walker Red Label’ he brought from the Gulf; his stories, punctuated with English words, keep everyone with their mouths hanging open. He is a man about town, frequently to be seen in the air-conditioned bars of city hotels, treating his entourage to chilli chicken and whisky. He pays very large dowries for the marriage of his sisters, and, when he marries, receives a large dowry. The intriguing links here between cash and masculinity, spending and potency, draw us towards the work of Bataille, notably his insights into the logics of excess, found in consumption, violence and eroticism, all of which we identify as performance arenas especially inflected in Kerala by masculinity (see Bataille 1962; 1985: 116 ff.; Miller 1998: 84 ff .). The gulfan is the very image of Bataille’s visions of excess, as far removed from Calvinist capitalism as could be.
In Waliyagramam, Baby Chacko is the man who perhaps most closely lives up to the gulfan stereotype. He started life poor; his father was a landless ploughman at the very bottom of the ‘big’ Christian Jacoba community. Baby and his father were huge and strong men and good agriculturalists, so landlords with no taste for farming passed land on to them to cultivate. Their lucky break came when land reforms gave them the land they were working, and hence the profits from it. Baby left his father in charge of the fields and, by judicious buying and selling of paddy, built up enough capital to get to Bahrain, where he worked as a mechanic for seven years. He now owns twelve acres of paddy land, a lorry, a car, a motorbike, two blades and lives in a comfortable Gulf-architect-designed two-storey house with garage and surrounding coconut garden, built on the main road near a large market centre.When we arrived for our first visit, we could see through the open front door that Baby, his brother and a friend were in the front room playing cards for money and drinking good (imported) whisky. Baby leapt up to shake hands with and smack Filippo on the back, jokingly calling him ‘Fillipachayan’, using the suffix of affection and respect used towards mature Christian men. Baby wore a brightly coloured and stylish synthetic lungi (waist-cloth), with a T-shirt. His friend and brother wore ready-made trousers and ‘Vivaldi’ (designer label) shirts. Baby had a gold watch, a long and heavy gold chain around his neck, a gold identity bracelet and a massive gold full-sovereign ring, all items bought in Bahrain.
Baby Chacko is often described as a goonda (villain). This is said by a few with contempt, but by the majority with grudging admiration or glee. Like many other gulfanmar, Baby Chacko is believed by many to have made his earnings abroad on the black, by smuggling gold and dollars; several people told us in perfect seriousness that he had a printing press with which he turned out counterfeit notes.4 These allegations suggest disbelief that the substantial fortunes accumulated by Gulf migrants can be accumulated in a short while through hard, honest work. They do not, however, express a negative moral judgement on the migrant: on the contrary they reinforce the clout, glamour and status surrounding the figure of the successful gulfan. He shares the attributes of other heroic characters who, through outstanding individual qualities, such as wit, charisma, charm, initiative, trickery, courage and physical strength, manage to accumulate wealth without being tarnished by the indignity of labour. Nor do these allegations express a distinction between the ‘inside’ moral economy of the village and the tarnished ‘outside’ world of capitalist wage-labour: former landlords, whose profits were made through appropriation and hoarding of village lands and grain, are described, accused and grudgingly admired in exactly the same idioms (counterfeit, evil magic). Akin to the ‘underworld king’ popular in Hindi and Tamil films, the gulfan is portrayed as enjoying access to an inexhaustible source of ‘easy money’ that enables him to conduct a life of luxury, ease and unlimited spending. What is central to the gulfan is his mastery of large amounts of cash.
With his ‘easy money’ and conspicuous displays of wealth and consumption, the gulfan strives to associate himself to a particularly powerful cultural prestige model, itself rooted in aesthetics of elite patronage. This is personified by the pre-land reform upper-caste landlord who, sitting on an easy-chair in the veranda, made money through other people’s work rather than his own labour, and spent large amounts of money holding sumptuous religious celebrations. The fact that everybody knows that Gulf money is neither limitless nor ‘easy’, that most gulfanmar work extremely hard, live in a harsh and difficult environment and save to the last Riyal, is, at this level, irrelevant. By colluding in the construction of an image of the successful gulfan as a patron, endowed with the power and prestige of owning and displaying ‘easy money’, villagers can justify their demands for help and assistance. At the same time, the images of surplus and prodigality associated with foreign migration are too compelling and attractive to be let go (cf. Hansen forthcoming).This construction is helped by the fact that the Gulf, the place where the wealth is accumulated, is far away from the village, the place where it is consumed and displayed.
The other half of this ambivalent figure, antithesis to the successful gulfan, is the failed gulfan, who also commonly makes his appearance as stereotype. As the defining characteristic of the successful gulfan is plenty of cash, this pathetic figure’s main characteristic is lack of sufficient cash to sustain conspicuous consumption and display of wealth. According to local accounts of how to spot a failed gulfan, following arrival from the airport in glory by taxi, after a few days in the village he starts using a rickshaw rather than a taxi and is soon reduced to the buses or an old, rusty bicycle. From drinking whisky and smoking foreign cigarettes, flashed around in packets, he reverts to visits to the local toddy shop and to buying single bidis. Within a few 124 FILIPPO OSELLA & CAROLINE OSELLA weeks, the cash he brought back has all gone to pay off debts, and to provide dowries and loans to relatives and friends; slowly all the gold he initially displayed with pride is mortgaged to a blade. The short-lived flashiness and cautious use of cash of such gulfans show that what is being spent is not ‘easy money’, but hard earned; at the worst as a despised coolie worker on a building site. (To pre-empt this accusation, manual workers commonly send home a photograph of themselves in an office, posing at a desk with a pen or typewriter.)
The gulfan predicament: kallan or pavam
Returning migrants need to hold on to their personal wealth, but are under pressure to spend it. The extreme outcomes of these opposing forces are expressed via two categories, both ambivalently valued: that of the kallan, a self-interested maximizer cut off from and despised by local society, and the pavam, the innocent good-guy, generous to the point of self-destruction. Unlike Lesotho migrants, who are protected by the ‘bovine mystique’ from putting cattle wealth at others’ disposal, Kerala migrants’ wealth, expressed as cash, stands firmly in the ‘domain of contestation’ – wealth to be fought over (Ferguson 1985: 657).
The prevalent but mistaken perception among villagers of the Gulf as a source of unlimited wealth and the gulfan as beneficiary of quick and substantial profit puts great economic pressures on the migrant. He is under pressure to demonstrate success through being jada (lit. shiny, flashy) and cettu (lit. cutting, i.e. ‘sharp’, fashionable), and by spending lavishly. However, if he starts spending large amounts of money (typically to make major and public improvements to his house) regarded as going above immediate consumption needs, he will be under pressure not only to repay debts incurred to finance his migration but also to fulfil expensive obligations towards close kin and relatives, such as providing for dowries and lending large sums of money.
The gulfan faces a dilemma. If he wants to reap full benefit from his newly earned wealth and concentrate on building up reserves of cash and goods for his future household, he must try to avoid social obligations (cf. Sagant 1996:
278 ff.) by claiming financial difficulties, arguing that he has not made enough money as yet, and trying to contain the pressures put on him by bringing back ‘foreign items’ for his relatives, especially to those from whom he had initially borrowed money. He can, of course, use such excuses only within limits, lest people begin to regard his migration as a failure, bringing shame upon him and his family. If demands come from affines, default is less problematic, part of routine behaviour in relation to them, but serious problems can occur when the close circle of direct kin is involved. In respect to them, a breach of the obligation to share one’s fortunes might give rise to disputes, publicly aired, causing the gulfan loss of face and reputation, breakdown of relationships and, eventually, social isolation.
Gopalakutty’s sons benefited from positive discrimination policies and obtained degrees in engineering. One migrated to the Gulf, while the other went first to Bombay and then to the USA. Once the money started to pour in, their father back home began to distance himself from relatives and FILIPPO OSELLA & CAROLINE OSELLA 125 caste-fellows. In this way he tried to avoid both having to respond to demands for financial help and being too closely associated with his own (Scheduled Caste) low status group. As his isolation from his community grew, Gopalakutty tried to establish a new social position for the family by forming new relationships with higher-caste villagers. To prove his worth, he spent a considerable amount on buying the ancestral house of a local high status Nayar family forced to sell by partition. Gopalakutty’s selfishness and transgression of social rules and expectations were subjects of continual disapproval and gossip among the community, including snubbed kin: behind his back he was called kallan. When Gopalakutty made a large public donation to a local temple during its annual festival, his fellow caste members and ex-neighbours spread the word that he was doing so because he needed and wanted to remove dosham (generic term for sins) accumulated by refusals to help relatives and friends. The behaviour of Gopalakutty was widely compared to that of a local widow who combines the running of an illegal arrack shop with occasional prostitution: ‘Every day she sells liquor and then once a month she pays for a reading of the Bhagavad Gita in her house. The next day she thinks all the dosham is gone and she starts selling again.’
Soman, an Izhava, second of ten brothers and sisters, has been working for a company,5 where he has taken three four-year contracts in Muscat (Oman) since 1982. For the last twelve years he has been working alongside two of his younger brothers, for whom he provided visas and jobs. Over this period, as well as sending regular remittances for family subsistence, the three have saved for the marriages of elder sisters, to pay for the education of younger siblings and to build a new concrete house for their parents. When Soman was thinking, in 1990, of returning permanently to Valiyagramam after eight years away, his cousin-brother (MZS), a medical representative, asked to borrow Rs 60,000 towards setting up a small medical shop. Soman willingly lent the money and the shop was opened, but after six months it closed for lack of business and profit. Soman lost more than a third of his savings and was forced to extend his contract in Muscat. Although villagers considered Soman as a shining example of moral behaviour, they also said that he was a pavam, that his amenable character and good intentions led him to be taken advantage of by his relatives. Behind his back, villagers gossiped about him and mocked him as foolish and weak. In his inability to discriminate between sound and unsound loan requests, he failed to display the buddhi which distinguishes adults from children. In his unwillingness to refuse any request for help, he showed himself as lacking in masculine resolve and autonomy.
Here we see some delicate movements between fragmented and essentialist orientations towards identity formation. While being a kallan is a positive attribute at the moment of accumulation of wealth in the Gulf, back in the village a migrant should behave like a social person, willingly prepared to utilize wealth to fulfil obligations and promote the well-being of relatives and close friends. Those gulfans who fail to do so, continuing to behave like selfinterested, individualistic, immoral and anti-social kallanmar (thieves) towards their own people (bandhukkar) become subject to condemnation, criticism and social boycott. They are able to stake claims for neither maturity nor adult masculinity. However, the behaviour of those gulfans who, by dutifully discharging their obligations, end up dissipating their savings, is also subject to widespread condemnation: while publicly praised, they are privately ridiculed as pavangal (pl. of pavam, lit. poor men), highly moral but highly gullible people.While pavam is widely spoken approvingly when speaking of women brides, elder sisters, mothers-in-law – who should be amenable, kindly and free of intrigue, it is spoken maliciously of men. Spoken by one man of another, ‘pavam’ is often accompanied by a smirk, implying that the speaker is more worldly-wise, more masculinely competent; as a judgement of a man spoken between women it is heavily ambivalent, implying a man who is at once undemanding and easy to handle, but by virtue of failure to assert or dominate somewhat feminized. The ambivalences and tensions expressed • here find parallels in other societies:Yang’s study of Chinese guanxi relationships of mutual help and patronage refers to the categories you – the ‘oily’ or ‘greasy’ person adept at manipulating guanxi relations, simultaneously distrusted and admired; and the laoshi – both ‘honest’ and ‘reliable’ but also ‘malleable’, ‘obedient’ and ‘mindless’ (Yang 1994: 64 ff .).
Moving towards balance: the gulfan gift
Tensions between kallan and pavam modalities are ideally resolved by the migrant through finding a balance between ameliorating his own social and economic position and assisting the advancement of the larger group. A careful strategy of gift-giving can do this, while simultaneously offering the gulfan an opportunity to move from immature, marginal payyan towards the decidedly mature and masculine status of man-at-the-centre (cf. Mines 1994;
Mines & Gourishankar 1990; Raheja 1988). By giving gifts and showing munificence, albeit at a controlled and calculated rate, the migrant can appear to live up to the stereotypical, prestigious image of the gulfan as consumer and displayer of ‘easy money’, while gradually increasing his control and mastery of others.
Whoever goes away to work is expected to bring back presents not only to the direct household, but also to a large number of relatives, neighbours and friends (cf. Addleton 1992: 139; Gardner 1993: 12;Werbner 1990: 203–4). These gifts hold multiple meanings for the migrant giver, which can be manipulated in different ways (cf.Werbner 1990: 229). By voluntary giving, migrants can partly pre-empt potentially limitless demands for large cash gifts and loans which threaten hard-earned savings and lead towards pavam-hood: prestige values attached to foreign items in some way compensates for lesser monetary values.
Gifts are also given to avoid evil eye and ill feelings aroused by envy of migrants’ alleged prosperity (cf. Ames 1966: 35; Good 1982: 27). Recipients of gulfan gifts take them as tangible proof of relations with the donor, and as evidence of the continuity of affection (sneham) between parties in the face of temporary separation and reputed social advance. As the metonymic embodiment of the migrant’s sneham, love and care (F. Osella & C. Osella 1996), gifts reiterate kinship relations and friendships, proving that a gulfan is FILIPPO OSELLA & CAROLINE OSELLA 127 not a ruthless, uncaring kallan and that he has the maturity and the substance necessary to recognize and to sustain important social relationships. At the same time, opportunities for gift-giving can be used instrumentally to create new, and transform existing, social relationships. Given to those of higher status, gifts establish relations of goodwill, said to soap the recipient. Non-reciprocal gifts can also be passed downwards, to create and maintain a network of clients; in this way, migrants can ensure some return for considerable outlays, becoming not pavam but patron, a big man at the centre of a nexus of social relations, enjoying high status and wide reputation, and exemplifying the local working out of a more widespread style of dominant masculinity (cf. Strathern 1988;Yang 1994). That attempts towards resolution are tilted in the direction of kallan-ness is indicated by the tendency among successful migrants to extend patronage via strategic gift-giving to their close circle, representing kinship obligations as the voluntary open-hearted largesse of a patron. Recipients not in a financial position to resist being assimilated as clients will publicly continue to receive gifts as their just sneham dues. That the new relationship is tacitly understood is demonstrated by migrants’ increased demands for assistance and services, going far beyond normal kinship obligations, by their non-reciprocation of such services, and by the meek compliance of the gift recipients.
Money and patronage
By exploring the figure of the Gulf migrant in its ideal pattern and in relation to the essentialized categories used locally as mooring points for otherwise precarious and fragmented selves doing continual identity work, we can see the unfolding of a particular approved trajectory and style of masculinity. A successful gulfan is a man who enriches himself by circumventing rules which normally tie the accumulation of wealth to labour. Money is the basis of the migrant’s success and he should display an almost careless attitude to it, suggesting both huge wealth and endless possibilities of making more. If he ceases to indulge in lavish consumption, he instantly puts his financial situation in doubt and hence loses his main claim to status. In this, he appears as hyper-masculine, a characteristic also suggested by his outshining others in displays of masculine competence undertaken in all-male performance arenas, such as card and drinking sessions with male friends, visits to prostitutes, paying for treats (cf. Colman 1990; e.g. Hertzfeld 1985; Loizos & Papataxiarchis 1991).
What helps make migration particularly relevant to masculinity is an enhanced relationship with money, a detachable form of masculine potency, and a means of exerting agency at a distance.As liquidity, as power, as flowing substance (dravya), as means to enjoyment (bhoga) and to support of dependents, cash holds an important place in South India as a central aspect of prestigious non-renunciatory styles of manhood.The returning migrant’s dilemma, that of striking the balance between becoming a pavam or a kallan, that of spending all his cash or selfishly holding on to it, is analogous to another ‘dilemma of substance’ faced by all adult men and much discussed in ethnographic literature. This is the difficult requirement to balance expenditure of semen, a flowing masculine substance which must also be accumulated, 128 FILIPPO OSELLA & CAROLINE OSELLA conserved carefully and channelled in socially (re)productive directions (for a review of literature on ‘semen loss anxiety’ or dhat syndrome, see C. Osella & F. Osella forthcoming).We are not suggesting that money acts as a metaphor for semen or that sexual exchange acts as source metaphor for all other types of exchange. Rather, we see correspondences between money and semen as rooted in metonymic principles of resemblance and based upon the aesthetics of patronage and leadership whereby ‘abundant cash resources . . . [are used] in various playful and sensual modes’ (Rao et al. 1992: 58). Connotations of lack, of promiscuous excess spending or of individualistic refusal to spend are similar with regard both to semen and to money: failure to demonstrate successful social mature male status, the mediation between manliness and buddhi, powers of discrimination. Successful negotiation of the idealized trajectory requires initial accumulation followed by controlled and judicious expenditure in which the element of containment is concealed, hidden beneath an adopted (elite) aesthetic of excess and ease (cf. Bourdieu and Bataille on contrasts between petty-bourgeois accumulation and aristocratic expenditure: Bataille 1997: 176; Bourdieu 1984).
The process of transformation of the migrant into a patron runs concomitant with and shares similar predicaments with the growth-cycle into manhood. A moment of accumulation corresponds to youth (payyan-hood, celibacy) and to migration, in which a young man has few responsibilities or dependents. Return marks a period of reintegration, the gulfan moving towards adult social status by marrying and taking a place within the community. During the moment of accumulation, the house and land unit (analogous to the self, see Carsten & Hugh-Jones 1995; Daniel 1984; F. Osella & C. Osella 1999) is built up and given substance, using remittances. When a satisfactory, reasonable level of individual-household improvement has been reached, the migrant’s attention can and should turn outwards. At the dangerous point of achieving hyper-masculinity (hyper-cash), but lack of maturity, the migrant must move forward if he is to reach manhood, a balanced combination of masculinity with maturity.
The performance of the gulfan who remains a complete kallan, failing to become a social man, will be judged a failure in so far as he remains asocial, immaturely individual, and not astute enough to take political advantage of the opportunities and expectations that his wealth generates: mere wealth may be enough for a young man, but dominant masculinity demands far more. The gulfan who does not retain control of his money, who gives in indiscriminately to those who have a moral claim upon his wealth, will also be considered unsuccessful. He displays weakness as well as lack of discernment and insight; people take advantage of his wealth without granting him prestige. As a result, like the anti-social gulfan, the kallan-in-the-village, the pavam has neither dependants nor clients. Having depleted his resources for no return, he also loses the chance to use to their full extent the potentiality that spending and displaying wealth confers.Wealth alone suggests masculinity but not maturity, the other essential component of manhood; maturity demands bhuddi and the wise use of resources, a quality lacking in both kallan and pavam. By fulfilling obligations in a way which places himself as a patron at the centre of a web of dependents and clients, the migrant emerges a successful adult man who, having accumulated enough resources, manages to find FILIPPO OSELLA & CAROLINE OSELLA 129 a skilful balance between the pull of social obligations and the need to retain control of his resources, in other words between spending and saving.
In recent years social scientists have used migration to theorize post-modern experiences of hybridity or dislocation and as a trope with which to talk about post-structuralist theories of the multiple and fragmented subject. Elsewhere, we have argued that in their consumption of (Gulf) imported goods, Kerala people are constructing selves externally related to otherness (vides), while in their preference for locally produced food-items and specific relationships to the land, they are constructing internal, substantial selves that are local (nadan) (F. Osella & C. Osella 1999; cf. Wilk 1998). Here hybridization is partial, context-specific and external, existing alongside and reinforcing an essentialized and interiorized sense of locality and of belonging to a community of substance-sharers.
The ethnography we presented here also suggests a comparable articulation between contradictory everyday experiences of masculinity of the sort expressed in the dilemmas faced by Gulf migrant returnees and in the divergence between the labour conditions under which capital has been accumulated and its representation back in the village, and a number of essentialized and differently valued gendered identities (gulfan, pavam, kallan or patronhouseholder) against which male performance is gauged. Strauss argues that post-modern subjects enmeshed in complex relations of global capital do indeed experience the self as split and contradictory, but that partial integration of fragmented selves may be effected by means of reference to ‘emotionally salient life experiences’ (1997: 395–6). In Kerala, partial integration of (or, we would prefer, articulation between) different aspects of the self takes place through reference to the passage from boyhood to manhood, a process involving labour, marriage and fatherhood and framed within a stereotyped ideal trajectory towards a strongly essentialized identity which draws upon notions of bourgeois paterfamilias and householder, as well as upon older ideas about patronage and centrality. From this perspective, discussing whether or not migration may be experienced as a break or discontinuity in one’s experience of self and others becomes secondary to understanding the ways that people make sense of the various individual practices migration engenders and the ways that those understandings are integrated into wider identity projects in which hierarchies of gender, class and status overlap, conflict and eventually reinforce each other (see e.g. Fernandes 1997).
We have received generous financial support for various periods of fieldwork and writingup from the period June 1989 to September 1996 from: the Economic and Social Research Council of Great Britain; the London School of Economics; the Leverhulme Trust; the Nuffield Foundation; and the Wenner-Gren Foundation.We have been affiliated to the Centre for Development Studies,Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, to the Madras Institute for Development Studies, Chennai, and to the Centre d’Études de l’Inde et de l’Asie du sud, Paris.We thank for helpful comments on earlier versions of this article: participants at the South Asian Anthropologists’ 130 FILIPPO OSELLA & CAROLINE OSELLA Group Conference in 1994; participants at the Anthropological seminar series at the University of Wales, Lampeter, 1998; JRAI’s anonymous referees; Penny Vera-Sanso. 1 As Herzfeld (1997: 156 ff.) notes, large parts of local knowledges and actions studied by anthropologists are rooted in locals’ stereotypes.
2 There are only rough, and often contradictory, estimates on the total number of Indian migrants in the Gulf; for example Nayyar (1989), Nair (1986) and Gulati (1983) estimate their number in 1983 as around 1 million.
3Compared to other areas in Kerala, in Valiyagramam the proportion of Gulf migrants (10%) to total population is relatively low (cf. Nair 1986). By reason of historical and religious links, those areas with a high Muslim population, such as coastal areas in the Northern Districts of Malappuram, Cannur, Trichur and Kozhikode and the Thiruvananthapuram District in the South of the State (now commonly known as ‘Little Persias’), were the first and most affected by Gulf migration (Kurien 1994; Matthew & Nair 1978: 1141). 4Other Gulfanmar, especially those who have made substantial economic gains, are said to have become rich through deceiving business partners, running prostitution rings, marrying and then murdering wealthy widows, or by making use of mandravadam (sorcery). 5 This is the commonest, deliberately vague, description of employment volunteered by those who are, presumably, doing non-prestigious jobs.