Not another book about the slums and poverty of India/Mumbai, I grimaced as I read the synopsis on the back of the book. But the cheerful cover and beautiful title caught my eye and I picked up the slim volume.
The book is based in Annawadi, a slum near Mumbai airport, and around it’s varied residents, all fighting for a place under the sun. Fighting for, and sometimes fighting each other for it too.
A petty quarrel based on economic envy leads a handicapped resident, one-legged Fatima, to set herself ablaze to teach her hardworking and quietly prospering neighbors a lesson, and Abdul, a teenaged garbage sorter is falsely accused of the crime, leading to a shocking tragedy.
Add global recession, suppressed tensions over religion, caste and sex and ambitions and desires that must be fulfilled at any cost, and you have a deadly cocktail of human emotions ready to erupt.
With her detailed research and exquisite writing, Katherine Boo recreates Annawadi for you. You find yourself shaking your head at Asha’s ruthless ambition to become a Slumlord and your heart going out to the quiet, hardworking and jaded, Abdul.
Sunil, the vertically challenged, and not happy about it at all, garbage sorter will have you smiling and Meena, whose spirit is broken by constant beatings inflicted by her family, will leave you misty eyed.
And and as you traverse through the narrow lanes dodging sewers and filth, you become part of the residents lives and find yourself going through a plethora of emotions along with each thoughtfully etched character. Loving them, hating them, rooting for them and wanting to help them or stop them.
Boo enthralls and even though I was sorely disappointed when the book ended, it stayed with me long after I finished reading it.