Posted by: chobhi | March 28, 2013

Behind the beautiful forevers… book review

As always, I go to India in December and come back in mid -February. It was rejuvenating to be in the warmth and sunshine of India.  A year ago, I had read a remarkable book review in the New York Review of Books about Katherine Boo’s book about the Mumbai slums. I was fortunate to get the book in India from my brother and read it. It was heartrending, hopeful, miserable and painful to read. The book is called Behind the beautiful forevers  and Katherine spent time in a Mumbai slum close to the airport area.  The lives of a few families who live in the slums is followed in detail and you realize that all people want the same thing, economic stability to raise themselves. The difference here is the lack of too much education ( except in the case of one woman who teaches in a make-shift school and her mother has high ambitions for her)living in misery, squalor. But there is no lack of entrepreneurship and innovation amongst the young men and women who try various ways of eking out a living under appalling, unsanitary,  conditions.  But what brings them down? Not illnesses, lack of money, surprisingly.When all are looking for the same way out, jealousies, competition seems to bring out the worst in humans.

I loved the book and I am not surprised by the turn of events in it. I have this young  woman who takes care of my sister’s home and dog and cooks for her. Rani is amazing, she lives in a one-room house where she cooks, sleeps and has a small area to use as a toilet. The room is smaller than my kitchen area, but she tries to survive. She has two sons who have not even finished high school and a husband who drinks and beats her. Yet Rani comes to the house and does her work cheerfully, thankful for her job and finding humor and fun in her little community where she lives.

This is the life of most of the characters in the Mumbai slums; some manage to survive collecting recyclable goods and selling them to make a little money to support their families. Most of these are young boys who should be in school. They are the forgotten children of India. But as you keep reading the book, you lose their surroundings and focus on their means of survival, you cheer them on and hope they make it. Will they? Do they?

In the end, I felt everyone is a hero ( she-ro) in their own way; I could not judge them for their actions, because I kept thinking,What would I have done if I had to live like them? Could I even imagine one day living their lives?

Katherine Boo shows compassion and empathy, without sounding patronizing and clawing, a well-written book. I highly recommend it.

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