Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity – Katherine Boo

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

It’s been a distressful morning. The milkman won’t be delivering the daily liter of milk; his house was razed by the local municipality. The family of six has to do with a makeshift shanty to prevent them from drowning in the dense showers of late night rains. Futile visits to the local political corporator and pleading to a rigid money-lender for a loan is what his weekly schedule looks like. Troublesome as it is for a detour to the supermarket for packaged milk, my domestic help decided to call it a day as it is the last day to confirm her receipt for a governmental pension of her deceased alcoholic husband. For all those vicious thrashings and numerous marital abuses she stomached for a decade, she truly deserved the so-called posthumous alimony; although a pitiful sum. Oh! What a wretched day it is!! Not only do I have to check the availability of another maid, but go and pick my dry cleaning as the delivery boy was arrested for trying to sell vegetables on the street corner disregarding any philanthropic duties to the patrolling authorities. Dear Lord! Am I the only victim of such suffrage? Mercifully, my chauffeur seems to have escaped from any such problematic liabilities. His tardiness has got me a bit worried on missing my blow-dry appointment. However, I reckon shifting the spa-medic detoxification an hour later could comfortably ease the tea-garden brunch.

It’s still 9am and I’m halfway through my anti-bacterial wipes. I need to make quick stop at the local pharmacy for more supplies; but the snail speed of this wretched sedan is making me perspire through the cool air of the designed interiors, dreading the inevitable. A knock on the window and I’m in no mood of indulging an urchin while fretting over the scarcity of the anti-germ armament. Few more taps and he moves on to the next door amongst the sea of vehicles. Bombay traffic; oh so nauseating! Couple red lights and  I’m ready for a literary dialogue over freshly brewed oolong. As I alight from the car, a pair of white retinas stares at me with a half-broken smile. The offering of green pistachios macaroons seemed supplementary to the actual fancy; a few more arguments over the importance of food and then the ultimate dispensing of monetary funds. The cool sea breeze brushing my cheeks sarcastically mocks the cup of warm tea. I’m finally at peace. Argh! This unnerving stench rising from a nearby engulfment of reclaimed land festering with juxtaposed shoddy shanties ruins the temporary nirvana. Such a disgrace for a posh high-rise! I must take up this issue at the upcoming Housing meeting.

While meticulously placing their cups avoiding the untimely melody of their exquisite china, the urban snobs critique twirling their freshly sprayed coifs; applauded the heroic effort of a certain Katherine Boo for having the balls to submit herself to the putrid cocktail of sewage stench and decaying garbage for nearly four years. It is indeed a medal of honor; elsewhere the opinionated lecturer making a run out of the narrow congested lanes before the eau de cologne evaporates from their handkerchiefs. Katherine, in a news interview said that after her research on the inner-city housing in Oklahoma city, she was curious about the institution of poverty. What ways do the ‘poor’ people execute to get out their impoverish survival? How did they thrive in the existing circumstances? What would you want me to say? To pronounce, that poverty has become the selling point of Indian literary panorama? Does romanticizing poverty give a feel of diving into some kind of exotic uncharted waters? Or does it give one’s heart a philanthropic illusion? On an eventful itinerary to India pick out a slum and pen the daily events of a close knitted neighborhood huddled together in congested housing. If, appreciated by the designated literary elites, spare a thought towards the unfortunate over overtly publicized Literary fest and if Boyle &Co. decides to take another shot at the Oscars; Hallelujah!!! Stories are not only born in slums, allow the tales to pass through through many corners of the vast Indian landscapes. The residents of Annawadi are audacious, unafraid and above all optimistic dreamers. Poverty is the biggest crime. It is better to be a cold-blooded murderer, but it is a sin to be poor. To be poor is to be guilty of one or another thing. Commiserating Raja Kamble- the toilet cleaner; rag picker Sunil, one-legged Sita and the vulnerable Asha who dreams to be the first ever slumlord demeans their very existence. Applaud these residents of Annawadi through the lines of this text as they struggle through the dodgy circumstances with true grit; for if it was one of us we would sooner or later walk the path of death.

In a land where the supermarket does not boast ten different brands of toothpastes, give an Ayn Rand to a youth standing in the ration line and see a potent explosive rise. Crony capitalism, corruption, poverty and economic disparity are necessary evils in a country that is racing at an hare’s speed to meet the global finishing line. The sinister underbelly of Mumbai proliferates with every rise and fall in oil trade stocks. Does that give a leeway to the privileged to dig deep in the trenches and frolic in the slush? Stop romanticizing poverty!! Recognize the white elephant in the room and pen an epic of crony capitalism and its hoarders. Wouldn’t it then be fun to see a panel of illustrious erudite critique the printed words. Would they find it rewarding as the scriptures of impecunious nether world or dismiss it as an unpatriotic insanity like they do with most of Arundhati Roy’s books. There my dearies lay the valid underbelly of a blossoming India and not through impoverished assiduous lives.

I reckon the raspberry macaroons go very well with oolong and I might skip the Housing meeting . As for my concerned nirvana I’ll just spray some Comme des Garçons.

3/5***

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