Thursday, March 22, 2012

My Review of Behind the Beautiful Forevers

My review is up on Women's Web. Here's the short version: I loved it and you absolutely should read it. (Do buy it through Women's Web, if you're buying at all.)

It's a very good window into slums (and though she focuses on one specific slum, Annawadi near the Mumbai airport, I suspect you'd get similar stories in other slums in India) and it's a very depressing picture. It's also something everyone of us should know about, because we're all indirectly responsible. And it seems (read the quote below) that things are getting worse, not better.

I loved this interview of Katherine Boo, where she explained both her motivations as well as the process of researching the book.

I especially loved this quote:
It was not a hard decision [to name corrupt officials] because these are public officials. If I am hiding the names then I am covering up the corruption, just like so many other people do. If it happened, and I am able to document that it happened, and if I don’t stand up and say it, and put my reputation on the line, then I am complicit.

A crucial distinction that I have seen, and the people of Annawadi have seen over the last five years, is a change in the social contract. It used to be that a family, take Abdul and his family (central characters in the book), running a business on airport land, gave money to the police, say, once a week. Now, it’s night cops, it’s day cops, it’s clerks, and you see this in business after business. There’s so much of an increase in corruption from their point of view. And these are the people without the information to protest, without the resources to protest, and without the time to protest. Middle class anti-corruption movements seem to have been very successful in bringing to light high level and middle level corruption but I don’t know how that affects the people who don’t have the time to organize, don’t have time to protest, don’t have time to pursue their complaints in a bureaucratic form. It’s an open question.


Chicu said...

am still curious to know more of your reactions after reading the book. I remember being impressed that she has not demonized anyone. Even the extortionist cops, Abdul realises, are people with aches and worries about their health.
I passed through the delhi airport today- looked at the cleanliness with new eyes- all I could see is loss of income.

Unmana said...

And this is why I admire you so much: you're the most compassionate person I know, with the most predilection for looking at the other side of everything.

Okay, fan-girling over, and to your question. I thought Boo was so incredibly compassionate too. There were a couple of people who were, you might say, demonized (the corporator, the "special executive officer"), but they totally deserved it!

I loved every bit of the book and had a hard time writing about it: where do you even start?

Anonymous said...

LOVED Boo's book. One of those rare books that made me feel so bleddy blessed and fortunate. Despite their sordid existence in , I admired Annawadians optimism and resilence. And credit goes to Boo for her sincere, honest and compassionate writing.
I would recommend this book to every Indian - if not anything it makes it real for folks like me.