First published in 2012,Behind the Beautiful Forevers is an outstanding non-fiction book about contemporary India .Though non-fiction , it reads like a thrilling novel. Its 254 pages reveal , in an authentic way ,about society , government and political system in a slum in Mumbai. Katherine Boo spent more than three years in India( November 2007—March 2011) , studying a slum named Annawadi from inside . As the sub title says, it is a book about life , death and hope in a Mumbai under city. I agree with Boo that there is a shortage of India- based non-fiction . This book has certainly filled that gap somewhat.
The book is about frustration , poverty , jealousy , false complaints, corruption in the Indian social system , police and government. Annawadi is about 200 yards off the Sahar Airport Road, an encroachment on the land of airport . Beautiful Forevers are the sunshine yellow ads for the ceramic tiles, that are painted on the wall , behind which Annawadi slum exists.
Corruption at cutting edge level is very high. Any certificate about birth or caste or other identity indicators can be purchased with bribe.”Abdul was 17 years old if he paid two thousand rupees , and twenty years old if he did not”. The book reveals how police investigations result one way or the other depending on whether bribery is paid or not , how the trial drags on and on , how Sarva Shisha Abhiyan funds are diverted by a nexus between government officials and NGO’s, how there is a disenfranchisement of migrants and hijras. The book seems to say that poverty makes criminals of everyone in Mumbai. The law is enforced merely as a means to extort money. Police detainees are obliged to forsake their savings to have a false criminal charge dropped. Boo exaggerates at times: “ The Indian criminal justice system was a market like garbage .Innocence and guilt could be bought and sold like a kilo of polyurethane bag” .
The book also indicates that poor people in slums in India just want to get ahead of other people around them. It is a major reason why India does not erupt in well organized rebellion from the bottom . “ What appears to be indifference to other people’s suffering has a great deal to do with conditions that can sabotage innate capacities for moral action. . . . In slums , it is blisteringly hard too be good. The astonishment is that some people are good” . Boo keeps herself entirely out of the narrative until the last chapter. Though not well versed in Indian languages , and taking the help of translators throughout , Boo has been able to enter and express the thoughts and emotions of the slum- dwellers quite intimately and accurately.
I recommend you to read this short, classic non-fiction book about contemporary India.