Monday, 9 April 2018

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

  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.

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