Monday, February 25, 2013

Behind The Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in A Mumbai Undercity Katherine Boo

Finished this book about a week ago. Took me a long time to complete this one. Reading is mostly done on the treadmill for this one. This is one of those books which keeps reminding me how fortunate I am. Set in Mumbai, in an undercity as the title depicts, it's a story that is kinda eye opening in some ways.

Bro and sis were in India around the same time I was reading the book and when they got back, I had firsthand experiences to compare. Sis stayed for a month in Delhi and spent quite a bit of time checking out all the different places. Bro was there on a business trip. He spent time with my sis and also had an eye-opening experience in that he said he saw 2 different worlds in a city...

And as they regaled their experiences, especially sis... there was so much I could identify with because the book had already described them. The slum, Annawadi is set in the shadow of the luxuries of Mumbai, where big glitzy hotels stand. It tells the tales of its inhabitants, the Muslim scavengers; the slum dwellers who make a living out of recycling. Garbage is their life source. It spins a story out of a place with noxious fumes, brackish water and fetid garbage; scenes which I think many of us are most unfamiliar with.... a thriving community in that place with its successes, comedies and tragedies.

The story centres around the Hussains, with Abdul their son being the star scavenger. There is drama when Fatima their neighbout tries to kill herself by setting herself on fire. Rat poison seems to be the handy choice for one to commit suicide in other incidents. One also reads about Manju the only slum girl with a college education, efforts to get out of the life she knew. Then there is Kalu, a spunky boy who steals scraps to sell to Abdul. Life is also cheap in the slum. It's easy to turn up dead and no one really bothers. Bodies are sold by doctors to supplement their income. Such is the life in India.

But no matter how much success the slum dwellers may achieve, their ultimate fortune lies in the hands of the rich, as can be seen by how it's tied to the arbitrary goodwill. This is India, where power still lies with the powerful and the poor can only but hope for arbitrary handouts from them.

It's a good read, one which would make any reader appreciate what they have.

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