Genre Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai

Genre – Narrative, Non-fictionBehind the Beautiful Forevers: Life,Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity a narrative, non-fictionwritten by The Pulitzer Prize Winner – Katherine Boo. This book was publishedin the year 2012 and captured the lives of people in a Mumbai slum – Annawadifrom 2007 to 2011. The slum was settled in 1991 by laborers brought fromsouthern Indian state Tamil Nadu to repair a runway at the internationalairport. When they decided to stay near the airport, they cleared wet,snake-filled, an uninhabited small swamp area across the street from the internationalterminal and Annawadi – the land of annas,born.

The stark contrast between the lifestyle of people in Annawadi and thesurrounding area with shining luxury hotels, very big offices and modern airportand the hope, struggle, desire, happiness and death of the people of Annawadiis the core theme of this book.    PROTAGONIST- Abdul Hakim Husain – “A coward: Abdul said it of himself” (P-IX), anextremely dedicated worker, a specialist in sorting garbage is the maincharacter of this book. Abdul lifted his large family, by negotiating withscavengers, thieves and police and by buying and selling the things, that richpeople threw away. Even though he was not interested or like the idea of fixingthe family hut, he helped to revamp the hut as per his mother’s wish. He wasalways there to protect his family. After his mother’s confrontation with “OneLeg” Fatima and after he was beaten by the police in the police station, hesaid to his father “I’d rather be beaten than see them beat you,” (P-107) which shows his care and lovetowards his father.

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He was always kind and caring to his entire family members.Unlike other boys in Annawadi, Abdul was not having any illicit behavior as hehad resisted Eraz-ex, desi liquor, brothel visits, or other diversions whichcould impact his business and ability to do his work. After hearing the storyfrom The Master at Dongri jail, he decided to be more generous and noble as TheMaster’s words lit up a virtuous path in Abdul. He decided not to buy anything thathe thought could be stolen and refused to encourage other boys to steal things.Further, he decided not to admit something he hadn’t done to Fatima even itwould lead to greater difficulties to his family. Abdul lived with an operatingprinciple of “Avoid Trouble” (P-XI). Though Abdul is hard working, his and hisfamily life changed miserably, when he was wrongly accused by his neighborFatima – the One Leg, as she burned herself.

  ANTAGONIST –Fatima the One Leg, who born in a Hindu family with birth name Sita and renamedas Fatima when she married a Muslim man and moved to Mumbai. As she wasdeprived affection from her parents during her young age due to her handicap,she hated herself during her younger days. She wanted to be respected andrecognized as attractive in Annawadi. The deprival of affection led her toextra marital affairs with many men in Annawadi and she felt very happy whenthey praised about her body.

She thought that she deserved a better life thanthe one she lives in Annawadi. Fatima was also not taking care of her childrenproperly and people of Annawadi thinks that she only killed her daughter Medina,when she afraid that she could get TB from her daughter Medina. Fatima toldpeople of Annawadi that Medina drowned in a pail. As a neighbor to Fatima, Husainsfamily helped Fatima by paying Medina’s funeral shroud and burial plot; andwhenever there was any fight between Fatima and her husband, Zehrunisa used to mediateand separate them. When Husains family, extended all possible help to One Leg,her heart is full of vengeance and jealous about Husain’s family. When Husainsfamily started to revamp their hut, Fatima started to confront Husain familyand which went to open bad mouth between Fatima and Zehrunisa, which leadFatima to complain with police unnecessarily.

And to take more revenge onHusain’s family, she poured kerosene on her head and immolate herself. When sheadmitted at Cooper Hospital, Zehrunisa went to meet her. Fatima was not readyto take the truce between her and Husain, brokered by Asha (slumlord) and madean accusation from her hospital bed that Abdul, his older sister, and theirfather had beaten her and set her on fire. Her vengeance, bad attitude and withthe help of Special Executive Officer Poornima Paikrao, Abdul, his sister and hisfather Karam arrested by police and got brutal beats and punishment.

Thecorrupted police officers punished Abdul and Karam to extract more money fromHusains which eventually lead to the collapse of Husains family.  PLOT SUMMARY            Behindthe Beautiful Forevers captures the life of people in Mumbai slum –Annawadi. Most of the people of Annawadi were very poor and only six of theslum’s three thousand residents had permanent jobs. Due to poverty and noincome, few residents ate rat, frog and scrub grass.             Husain and his family leads asuccessful life through their son Abdul’s hard work, who has built a successfulrecycling business.

Other Annawadians, like their neighbor Fatima (the “OneLeg”) jealous about the success of Husains. Husains family helps the Fatimafamily and celebrate the Muslim’s festival together, but the tension betweentwo families continues to grow. When the Husains revamping their hut, verbalargument started by Fatima led to the arrest of Zehrunisa. To threaten theHusain family, Fatima self-immolates herself with cooking oil and the Husainswere blamed for provoking Fatima to commit suicide. Fatima eventually diesafter few days of treatment at hospital, three members of Husain family –Abdul, his father Karam, and his sister Kehkashan imprisoned.

Husains werebeaten and suffered a lot in prison, before eventually released on parole andbrought to trial. During this period, Abdul couldn’t work steadily and Husainsfamily also started to struggle as other families in Annawadi.    KEY THEMESSocio Economic Inequality: Indiangovernment wants to showcase to the world that the recent economic developmentand its benefits reached till the root level but the reality is different. InAnnawadi, three thousand people had packed into, or on top of 335 huts. Thepeople of Annawadi have only two hours of drinking water, no food and no safeplace to stay during heavy rain, surrounded by mosquitoes, rats and buffalos.

But this slum is surrounded by extravagant hotels, big office buildings, andmodern airport. As Abdul’s younger brother Mirchi quotes, “Everything around usis roses.” “And, we’re the shit in between.” When people in Annawadi don’t haveproper house, India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani constructing twenty-seven storyhouse for his family of five in South Mumbai. Six hundred servants will work inhis house for his family of five members.

Within Annawadi itself, we can seethe socio economic inequality. Family of Asha and Husains are considerablydoing better than other families in the slum. This socio economic inequality isone of the reasons for the feud between Fatima and Husains. The economyindifference makes neighbors into enemies.  Opportunity: Due to globalization, people of India across allsocial classes hoped that there might be more opportunities which may lead toprosperity in their lives but it proved that people who are already enjoyingmany benefits only could able to get those new benefits. The opportunities werenot transformed the life of poor as it changed the lives of wealthy segment ofthe society. In Annawadi, different people got different opportunity based ontheir power and position.

Asha (Slumlord) could able to get most of thegovernment aided funds, schemes by using her political influence and by makingsome alternate arrangements. The author gave examples of how the government aidagencies divert the aid from their intended recipients in to the pockets of wealthypeople. Asha utilizes the opportunity by manipulating the poor with phonyschemes and works with politicians to gain power and money. With theopportunity provided to Asha, she could make her daughter Manju –Annawadi’s   “most-everything girl” firstcollege graduate of Annawadi.

When Abdul and his family struggling betweenpolice and court procedures, his competitor old Tamil man utilized theopportunity and got most of the share of scavenger’s goods. The old Tamil manalso utilized the opportunity by luring young scavengers with video gameparlor, he loaned soap bars and money for food, tools for thieves to cut wires,etc. and there is no option left out to the scavengers and thieves, they had tosell their goods to the old Tamil man at lesser rate. Aspiring politicians usedthe opportunity by provoking the local people of Mumbai with anti-migrantcampaign to gain more votes. 

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