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.