Behind impact his business and ability to do

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life,
Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity a narrative, non-fiction
written by The Pulitzer Prize Winner – Katherine Boo. This book was published
in the year 2012 and captured the lives of people in a Mumbai slum – Annawadi
from 2007 to 2011. The slum was settled in 1991 by laborers brought from
southern Indian state Tamil Nadu to repair a runway at the international
airport. When they decided to stay near the airport, they cleared wet,
snake-filled, an uninhabited small swamp area across the street from the international
terminal and Annawadi – the land of annas,
born. The stark contrast between the lifestyle of people in Annawadi and the
surrounding area with shining luxury hotels, very big offices and modern airport
and the hope, struggle, desire, happiness and death of the people of Annawadi
is the core theme of this book.    

PROTAGONIST
– Abdul Hakim Husain – “A coward: Abdul said it of himself” (P-IX), an
extremely dedicated worker, a specialist in sorting garbage is the main
character of this book. Abdul lifted his large family, by negotiating with
scavengers, thieves and police and by buying and selling the things, that rich
people threw away. Even though he was not interested or like the idea of fixing
the family hut, he helped to revamp the hut as per his mother’s wish. He was
always there to protect his family. After his mother’s confrontation with “One
Leg” Fatima and after he was beaten by the police in the police station, he
said to his father “I’d rather be beaten than see them beat you,” (P-107) which shows his care and love
towards his father. He was always kind and caring to his entire family members.
Unlike other boys in Annawadi, Abdul was not having any illicit behavior as he
had resisted Eraz-ex, desi liquor, brothel visits, or other diversions which
could impact his business and ability to do his work. After hearing the story
from The Master at Dongri jail, he decided to be more generous and noble as The
Master’s words lit up a virtuous path in Abdul. He decided not to buy anything that
he thought could be stolen and refused to encourage other boys to steal things.
Further, he decided not to admit something he hadn’t done to Fatima even it
would lead to greater difficulties to his family. Abdul lived with an operating
principle of “Avoid Trouble” (P-XI). Though Abdul is hard working, his and his
family life changed miserably, when he was wrongly accused by his neighbor
Fatima – the One Leg, as she burned herself.   

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ANTAGONIST –
Fatima the One Leg, who born in a Hindu family with birth name Sita and renamed
as Fatima when she married a Muslim man and moved to Mumbai. As she was
deprived affection from her parents during her young age due to her handicap,
she hated herself during her younger days. She wanted to be respected and
recognized as attractive in Annawadi. The deprival of affection led her to
extra marital affairs with many men in Annawadi and she felt very happy when
they praised about her body. She thought that she deserved a better life than
the one she lives in Annawadi. Fatima was also not taking care of her children
properly and people of Annawadi thinks that she only killed her daughter Medina,
when she afraid that she could get TB from her daughter Medina. Fatima told
people of Annawadi that Medina drowned in a pail. As a neighbor to Fatima, Husains
family helped Fatima by paying Medina’s funeral shroud and burial plot; and
whenever there was any fight between Fatima and her husband, Zehrunisa used to mediate
and separate them. When Husains family, extended all possible help to One Leg,
her heart is full of vengeance and jealous about Husain’s family. When Husains
family started to revamp their hut, Fatima started to confront Husain family
and which went to open bad mouth between Fatima and Zehrunisa, which lead
Fatima to complain with police unnecessarily. And to take more revenge on
Husain’s family, she poured kerosene on her head and immolate herself. When she
admitted at Cooper Hospital, Zehrunisa went to meet her. Fatima was not ready
to take the truce between her and Husain, brokered by Asha (slumlord) and made
an accusation from her hospital bed that Abdul, his older sister, and their
father had beaten her and set her on fire. Her vengeance, bad attitude and with
the help of Special Executive Officer Poornima Paikrao, Abdul, his sister and his
father Karam arrested by police and got brutal beats and punishment. The
corrupted police officers punished Abdul and Karam to extract more money from
Husains which eventually lead to the collapse of Husains family. 

PLOT SUMMARY

            Behind
the Beautiful Forevers captures the life of people in Mumbai slum –
Annawadi. Most of the people of Annawadi were very poor and only six of the
slum’s three thousand residents had permanent jobs. Due to poverty and no
income, few residents ate rat, frog and scrub grass.

            Husain and his family leads a
successful life through their son Abdul’s hard work, who has built a successful
recycling business. Other Annawadians, like their neighbor Fatima (the “One
Leg”) jealous about the success of Husains. Husains family helps the Fatima
family and celebrate the Muslim’s festival together, but the tension between
two families continues to grow. When the Husains revamping their hut, verbal
argument started by Fatima led to the arrest of Zehrunisa. To threaten the
Husain family, Fatima self-immolates herself with cooking oil and the Husains
were blamed for provoking Fatima to commit suicide. Fatima eventually dies
after few days of treatment at hospital, three members of Husain family –
Abdul, his father Karam, and his sister Kehkashan imprisoned. Husains were
beaten and suffered a lot in prison, before eventually released on parole and
brought to trial. During this period, Abdul couldn’t work steadily and Husains
family also started to struggle as other families in Annawadi.   

KEY THEMES

Socio Economic Inequality: Indian
government wants to showcase to the world that the recent economic development
and its benefits reached till the root level but the reality is different. In
Annawadi, three thousand people had packed into, or on top of 335 huts. The
people of Annawadi have only two hours of drinking water, no food and no safe
place to stay during heavy rain, surrounded by mosquitoes, rats and buffalos.
But this slum is surrounded by extravagant hotels, big office buildings, and
modern airport. As Abdul’s younger brother Mirchi quotes, “Everything around us
is roses.” “And, we’re the shit in between.” When people in Annawadi don’t have
proper house, India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani constructing twenty-seven story
house for his family of five in South Mumbai. Six hundred servants will work in
his house for his family of five members. Within Annawadi itself, we can see
the socio economic inequality. Family of Asha and Husains are considerably
doing better than other families in the slum. This socio economic inequality is
one of the reasons for the feud between Fatima and Husains. The economy
indifference makes neighbors into enemies.  

Opportunity: Due to globalization, people of India across all
social classes hoped that there might be more opportunities which may lead to
prosperity in their lives but it proved that people who are already enjoying
many benefits only could able to get those new benefits. The opportunities were
not transformed the life of poor as it changed the lives of wealthy segment of
the society. In Annawadi, different people got different opportunity based on
their power and position. Asha (Slumlord) could able to get most of the
government aided funds, schemes by using her political influence and by making
some alternate arrangements. The author gave examples of how the government aid
agencies divert the aid from their intended recipients in to the pockets of wealthy
people. Asha utilizes the opportunity by manipulating the poor with phony
schemes and works with politicians to gain power and money. With the
opportunity provided to Asha, she could make her daughter Manju –
Annawadi’s   “most-everything girl” first
college graduate of Annawadi. When Abdul and his family struggling between
police and court procedures, his competitor old Tamil man utilized the
opportunity and got most of the share of scavenger’s goods. The old Tamil man
also utilized the opportunity by luring young scavengers with video game
parlor, he loaned soap bars and money for food, tools for thieves to cut wires,
etc. and there is no option left out to the scavengers and thieves, they had to
sell their goods to the old Tamil man at lesser rate. Aspiring politicians used
the opportunity by provoking the local people of Mumbai with anti-migrant
campaign to gain more votes.