Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Behind the Beautiful Forevers.

The book title is clunky. It doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue. When ordering my copy from Infibeam I typed ‘Beyond’ instead of ‘Behind’ in the search field. The search engine promptly amended it, though. The title comes from an advertising hoarding for Italian floor tiles that used to be on the since demolished wall behind which the by now world-renowned slum abutting the Mumbai airport, Annawadi, exists. Though clunkily named, the book is far from clunky. It reads like a Charles Dickens novel set in present-day Mumbai, though fiction it most definitely is not. Katherine Boo has done an exceptional job of making us feel – albeit at second hand − what it’s like to exist like a virtual nobody at the bottom of the social pyramid of Heartbreak City with the most tenuous “temp work” link with the life in the legitimate metropolis − and with all the cards in the deck stacked against the subsister. No names have been changed to protect anyone’s privacy or to ward off the peril of getting sued for defamation. The book is a piece of pure reportage devoid of judgemental subtext – an admirable feat rarely achieved in chronicling life, high or low. Being an outsider may have helped Boo to reach this state of equanimity while telling the Annawadi story. It certainly seems to have lent a down-to-earth perspective to the narrative. Will the publication of Behind the Beautiful Forevers make a difference to the lives of Annawadians? Local politician and 'slum boss' Asha Waghekar doesn’t think so. http://yhoo.it/GCn7bq. Her neighbour, Akhtar Husain, a younger sibling of Abdul who is one of the main ‘characters’ in Boo’s book, agrees with Asha. Boo is hopeful that the publicity garnered by her work may work in favour of Annawadi and other slums particularly because she has removed the cloak of invisibility from the unconscionable injustices heaped on the innocent slum dwellers. http://bit.ly/GEzqWg. Let us hope she is right. Only Time will tell, I guess.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bad to worse. Then better, maybe.

“We are headed for a Malthusian crisis,” he said, with professorial confidence. “Plankton levels are dropping. Bees are dying. There are tortilla riots in Mexico, the highest wheat prices in 30-odd years.” He paused. “The question we have to answer is: How do we kill four of the world’s six billion people in the most just way possible?” http://nyti.ms/wPL7Ah

In early 2007, 75000 Mexicans rioted over the sharp rise in the price of tortillas, staple diet of the poor. This was not front-page news. http:// aol.it/zpnUlE Yet a sharp-witted troll in the US blithely cited the civil disturbance as one of the noteworthy symptoms of the coming global crisis. Trolls are member of a growing Internet subculture which is marked by a fluid morality and a disdain for pretty much everyone else online. If the reading of the situation by the troll sounds like loony tunes, please remember that it is the opinion of someone who lurks in the underbelly of the Internet and hardly ever comes in touch with normal folks. Come to think of it, there is more than an iota of truth in what he said although his final solution may sound extreme. Take a country like Incredible India of the Economic Miracle fame. Its citizenry is blessed with more mobile phones than access to toilets, more cars than roads to run them on, more electrical appliances than electricity to power them. Iniquity, inequality, corruption, make-believe ‘garibi hatao’ programs, child abuse, delayed and/or miscarried justice, hell holes doubling as prisons, orphanages, hospitals… such is the proletarian lot. Is the Malthusian crisis is at the root of it all? Even if it is, there may be a more humane alternative to the troll’s prescription of decimating the numbers of the lesser god’s progeny. How about asking old Karl Marx’s ‘opiate of the masses’ to ride to the rescue? Renunciation is a virtue in the Hindu scheme of things. So it may just do the trick. This way, the powers that be are also spared the worry of the likelihood of a bloody rebel. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World had soma, a tranquilizer without after effects. Should Brave New India not emulate the shining example?