Radiozine on 04/06/12
Host Gene Bradley speaks with Katherine Boo about her new book Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity.
In 2001, after many years spent exploring how people get out of poverty in the United States, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Katherine Boo met Sunil Khilnani, an Indian writer and political historian. His country, which has a third of the world’s poor and is also one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, became her country, too. Over time, moving between the U.S. and India, she came to feel that the style of reporting she practiced in America—a mix of intimate immersion and investigation--might have some value in India as well. “I didn’t want to revel in the squalor of the slums, nor did I want to reduce the people who live in them to simple, passive caricatures,” she said. “Instead I wanted to examine the infrastructure of opportunity in an Indian city—to understand more deeply who gets out of poverty and who doesn’t, and why.” The result is a striking account of both a slum and a market-global moment when optimism, competition, anxiety, and volatility coexist uneasily, and moral imperatives can’t help but collide.
BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS takes readers into the hidden world of Annawadi, a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near Mumbai’s international airport. As India begins to prosper, the slum’s residents are electric with hope. Abdul, a diffident teenager, sorts and sells recyclable airport garbage with such deftness that he’s on the verge of taking his family of eleven out of the slums. Asha, a sharp and imaginative 39-year-old woman, is equally determined to make her sensitive daughter Annawadi’s first female college graduate. And even the poorest Annawadians, like fifteen-year-old Kalu, a homeless scrap-metal thief, feel themselves inching closer to the good lives and good times they call the “Full Enjoy.” But then Abdul is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terrorism and a global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power, and economic envy escalate and turn brutal. As the true contours of an unequal city are revealed, so too are the courage and ingenuity of the Annawadians.