Full circle

My first trip to India was in January of 2006. I was in Bangalore to give a talk on behalf of a professor I had worked with previously. A year later, again in January, I was back in Bangalore for the start of what I thought then would be a few months of fieldwork for my dissertation. From there, I’d fall back into normalcy in New York where I lived at the time, transcribe interviews, see what I had, and write something up. It didn’t turn out that way. I deposited my dissertation and graduated years later, in 2013, and ever since I’ve been working on a book manuscript. 

This summer I’ll return to Bangalore to share what I have of the book manuscript, which, finally, is getting into shape. There’s still a ways to go, mind you. Right now, I have a 30-page introduction and three chapters, each 40+ pages long (and which will eventually need to be cut down, I know). I’m working on another chapter at present, which I should have done end of this month, and another that’s well underway. Then, there’s a last chapter, followed by a conclusion. Plus, a methodological appendix. Maybe it’d be overly ambitious to have the whole thing done by mid-July, when I head out, but I can see the light now, and that’s not something I’ve been able to say up until now. 

The project started out as an investigation of Bangalore’s emerging new elite. My particular field sites were the city’s golf courses. Three, in fact: the Karnataka Golf Association, the Bangalore Golf Club, and the Eagleton Golf Resort (all of which know about this project, and consented this research). The club members I got to know, and who trusted me immensely in sharing their lives and this world with me, were interesting, compelling figures in their own right.

But it wasn’t until I got to know the golf caddies who worked with them that the members themselves and the world they had created in these private—yet government-subsized—spaces came into sharper focus. Over time, as I played the courses, hung out with members and caddies, visiting them in their homes, and traveling with them outside the city on occasion, what emerged was a study of what kinds of lives and possible futures were made at the intersection of wealth and poverty. The caddies, in the end, captured the bulk of my attention throughout the remainder of my fieldwork, and it’s their lives that figure most prominently in the book. This isn’t the usual study of poverty from below, I like to think. Rather, it’s a study of social mobility, or the lack of it, as a consequence of so much deference and servility offered in exchange for barely living wages and tips. 

I tell a story in the introduction to the book about the first time I played golf at the KGA, in the fall of 2007. I had hired a caddy I will call Krishna (not his real name). Walking up the seventh fairway, we got to talking. The whole time we were speaking in English. I wondered how he had learned the language. Not a smart question, in hindsight, but he delivered a perfect response: “My school is the KGA.” And right there, in that moment, I had something, a project. A project because I didn’t yet know what else Krishna and his peers had learned in this space all these years working at the side of some of the richest, most powerful people in the city. So, I ventured to find out. 

In the coming weeks and months before the book is published (2017 is the plan), I’ll share more about the project, how it got off the ground, what obstacles I ran up against, and, importantly, the lessons Krishna and so many of his peers shared with me. More soon.