Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Annawadi is a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, and as India starts to prosper, Annawadians are electric with hope. Abdul, a reflective and enterprising Muslim teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting” in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Asha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from a childhood in rural poverty, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption. With a little luck, her sensitive, beautiful daughter will soon become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest Annawadians, like Kalu, a fifteen-year-old scrap-metal thief, believe themselves inching closer to the good lives and good times they call “the full enjoy.”

But then Abdul the garbage sorter is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and a global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power and economic envy turn brutal. As the tenderest individual hopes intersect with the greatest global truths, the true contours of a competitive age are revealed.

This documentary style story of the Mumbai slum Annawadi was a great catalyst for our club’s thoughts on everything to do with poverty, corruption, cultural diversity and India’s caste system. Everyone was appalled by the life these people were forced to live, but a few commented on the lack of passion invoked by the writing style. This we all put down to the author’s documentary experience and believe she was able to give an honest, thought provoking account that was not swayed by, or biased with, personal emotion.

Ours is a well read group but we were all still amazed by the degree of corruption within India’s official systems. And although we are all aware, to a certain degree that this went on, Boo was able to give us a clear and heart-wrenching picture of what such fraud does to these poor communities.

Through our discussion we were able to come to some realisations though. The cultural and religious boundaries are deeply set and the complex caste system quite outside of our own understanding. So taking these and our own country’s faux pas in certain cultural areas into consideration, we felt that the book was an educational, informative and at times humorous   look at a society replete with desperation but also hope.