How is it that people can so easily go from being oppressed to being an oppressor? Immigrants fleeing from a society where they were second class citizens come to a new country in order to make a fresh start, but somehow forget what it was that caused them to have to flee in the first place. Instead of being merely grateful for the opportunity to live as they like without having to look over their shoulders, they become driven to make a success of themselves no matter what. Perhaps because they lived with insecurity for so long, they are blinded to anything but guaranteeing security for themselves and their loved ones in this new place, and lose track of everything else.
Obviously that's not the case with all immigrants, and it's not even a statement one can make about any particular community in general. Within any group of people there will be those, no matter what their backgrounds or personal histories, who will have no compulsions about doing whatever they have to in order to get ahead, and those who follow a more moderate path. Yet in a society whose system is based on the premise of winners and losers, one group will invariably be higher up the ladder that somebody else. Therefore, no matter how good their intentions, they will be the exploiters, in either a small way or a large way, of those beneath them. While we may like to think of ourselves as living in a classless society, the reality is wealth equals status and the more you have the more exalted you are.
In his new release, Dahanu Road published by Random House Canada on March 30, 2010, Anosh Irani recounts the story of a family of Iranian Zoroastrians who emigrated to India before WW ll in order to escape their status as second class citizens. By the time we join the story the family are well established land owners and the founder of the family fortune's grandson, Zarios, is now an adult. Zarios has grown accustomed to privilege and leading a life of idleness. While his grandfather may have had to walk from Iran to India, and suffered deprivations and abuse as a child, neither Zarios or his father Aspi have had to struggle for anything.
Working for the family, and all the other local landowners, are the Warlis, a local tribal people whose land this was before the immigrants from Iran arrived. Zarios is not a cruel person by any stretch of the imagination, but he's never given any thought to how the Warlis went from owning the land he stands to inherit, to working for next to slave wages as field workers on it. As his father is as ignorant of the land's history as he is, it's to his grandfather that he must turn for answers to the questions that start to arise soon after the story begins. For, one morning, as he's walking the land, he comes across the body of one of their workers who has hung himself. When it turns out the last person to have seen Ganpat alive was Zarios' grandfather, he becomes curious as to what happened at that meeting. His grandfather said, with great scorn, that Ganpat had asked him for money, which he naturally refused to give him.
Nothing more might have come of this incident — after all, it was just another drunk tribal worker who hung himself — save for the fact that Zarios meets Ganpat's daughter, Kusum, and is immediately attracted to her. When he finds out that Ganpat wanted money to free his daughter from an abusive marriage, Zarios takes it into his head that he will rescue her and then take her away from her life of squalor. Naturally he has no idea of what he's doing. All his life whenever he has seen something he's liked or wanted he's taken it, and this case is no different. It's not that his intentions aren't good in this case, or that he means Kusum any harm, but if he can't even tell his parents that she's not a servant when they come home unexpectedly and find her sleeping on the living room floor, well, how is he going to be able to have any sort of permanent relationship with her?