September 3, 2012 by markstani
Abdul and his neighbors were squatting on land that belonged to the Airports Authority of India. Only a coconut-tree-lined thoroughfare separated the slum from the entrance to the international terminal. Serving the airport clientele, and encircling Annawadi, were five extravagant hotels: four ornate, marbly megaliths and one sleek blue-glass Hyatt, from the top-floor windows of which Annawadi and several adjacent squatter settlements looked like villages that had been airdropped into gaps between elegant modernities.
“Everything around us is roses,” is how Abdul’s younger brother, Mirchi, put it. “And we’re the shit in between.”
Subtitled ‘Life, Death And Hope In A Mumbai Slum’, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Katherine Boo’s latest book (pub. Portobello) gives a remarkable insight into the lives of India’s so-called under-citizens, framed around the story of Abdul, a waste-picker and member of his slum’s persecuted Muslim minority. When Abdul and his family are framed for the death of their neighbour, the full extent of the endemic corruption within Indian society – and in particular its poorest depths – is shockingly unfurled.
‘Beautiful Forevers’ would pass as a gripping, well-researched if occasionally far-fetched piece of fiction. What makes this book so triumphant is the fact that all its characters and their travails are true: Boo spent upwards of four years among Annawadi’s residents, using her notes, recording and photographs, as well as bundles of thousands of official documents, to interpret their lives.
Frequently in the course of reading ‘Beautiful Forevers’, it comes as a jolt to remind oneself that what is being described so unsentimentally and persuasively on the page is something that has actually happened.
This is a stunning, sad and occasionally hopeful book, a true work of a master of her craft: both a damning indictment of low-level Indian authority, and an alluring glimpse of one of the world’s great superpowers-in-waiting.