Saturday, February 16, 2013

Behind the Beautiful Forevers : A Review

Written in a lucid and engaging manner by Katherine Boo, this book is a deep dive into the lives of those at Annawadi, a well-known slum two hundred yards off the Mumbai International airport, and surrounded by five star hotels.

When I picked up this book, I expected yet another story about poverty that we may have read in many a magazine. No doubt, it does definitely feature poverty. In fact, poverty so acute that I find it difficult to believe that there are people who manage to survive in such inhuman conditions – read rats, worms, sewage and the like! But the difference is that no matter what the misfortune may be, the survival skills of many narrated in the book is absolutely laudable. It is also a story of dreams and courage, and gives an interesting insight into the relationship of the slum dwellers with the unforgiving external world.

Although the story starts and ends with the young and ambitious Abdul, the reader is also introduced to his neighbors and family through a series of mishaps. A family that consists of a father who constantly dreams of shifting the family (of 11!) to a mere 269 square feet of land in a far off village; a mother who has lost count of her children and has only profanities and stale food to satisfy the families’ appetite; and siblings who are forced to accept whatever job they are thrown into. Abdul, being the focused and hardworking youngster is the breadwinner and aims to be the best garbage dealer in 'Slumbai'.
Other characters in the story being Fatima, the one legged dancer, also the laughing stock and the reason behind Abdul’s troubles. Asha, the shrewd kindergarten teacher cum Shiv Sena flag bearer, aspiring to be a slumlord and a politician someday. Manju, Asha's demure and kind hearted daughter who tries her best to turn a blind eye to her mother's not-so-worthwhile activities.

The reader comes across drug dealers, murderers, brothel owners, NGO activists, businessmen, police officers, doctors and many outsiders who exploit the slum for their selfish interests and leave the inhabitants at their mercy. Many of the actions reek of corruption and exhibits loopholes in our judiciary system.

Uneducated and superstitious, these slum dwellers have learnt to accept their fate, bite the bullet and move on with the hopes of a better tommorrow. They are forced to accept lies, theft and shockingly even murder as a part and parcel of day to day existence. Inspite of pitiful living conditions and the constant fear of the airport authorities, what is noteworthy of each of these characters is the desire to excel and the growing greed for a better life.

The Pulitzer I believe can be accounted to the narration, detailing and not to mention extensive research that would have gone into the making of this book. You will be pleasantly surprised to know what "Beautiful Forevers” actually is! :) 

Kudos to Katherine Boo for capturing the real essence of Annawadi and describing it vividly to her readers.  Ready to be informed, intrigued and shocked, all at one go? Then this one is for you.