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NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER â€¢ NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FINALIST NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times â€¢ The Washington Post â€¢ O: The Oprah Magazine â€¢ USA Today â€¢ New York â€¢ The Miami Herald â€¢ San Francisco Chronicle â€¢ Newsday NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New Yorker â€¢ People â€¢ Entertainment Weekly â€¢ The Wall Street Journal â€¢ The Boston Globe â€¢ The Economist â€¢ Financial Times â€¢ Newsweek/The Daily Beast â€¢ Foreign Policy â€¢ The Seattle Times â€¢ The Nation â€¢ St. Louis Post-Dispatch â€¢ The Denver Post â€¢ Minneapolis Star Tribune â€¢ Salon â€¢ The Plain Dealer â€¢ The Week â€¢ Kansas City Star â€¢ Slate â€¢ Time Out New York â€¢ Publishers Weekly From Pulitzer Prize-winner Katherine Boo, a landmark work of narrative nonfiction that tells the dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking story of families striving toward a better life in one of the twenty-first century's great, unequal cities.
In this brilliantly written, fast-paced book, based on three years of uncompromising reporting, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human. Annawadi is a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, and as India starts to prosper, Annawadians are electric with hope. Abdul, a reflective and enterprising Muslim teenager, sees "a fortune beyond counting" in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Asha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from a childhood in rural poverty, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption. With a little luck, her sensitive, beautiful daughter-Annawadi's "most-everything girl"-will soon become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest Annawadians, like Kalu, a fifteen-year-old scrap-metal thief, believe themselves inching closer to the good lives and good times they call "the full enjoy." But then Abdul the garbage sorter is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and a global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power and economic envy turn brutal. As the tenderest individual hopes intersect with the greatest global truths, the true contours of a competitive age are revealed. And so, too, are the imaginations and courage of the people of Annawadi. With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects human beings to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forevers carries the reader headlong into one of the twenty-first century's hidden worlds, and into the lives of people impossible to forget. Finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction Winner of the 2012 National Book Award for Nonfiction Winner of the 2012 L.A. Times Book Prize for Current Interest One of the New York Times Book Review's Top 10 Books of 2012
About The Author Katherine Boo is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a former reporter and editor for The Washington Post. Her reporting has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize, a MacArthur "Genius" grant, and a National Magazine Award for Feature Writing. For the last decade, she has divided her time between the United States and India. This is her first book.
Reviews From Barnes & Noble
This Spring selection about slum-dwellers who live in the shadow of the Mumbai airport won the hearts and minds of Discover readers, and its good works didn't stop there. Behind the Beautiful Forevers has since become a word-ofmouth favorite on both sides of the Atlantic. Publishers Weekly
A Mumbai slum offers rare insight into the lives and socioeconomic and political realities for some of the disadvantaged riding the coattails (or not) of India's economic miracle in this deeply researched and brilliantly written account by New Yorker writer and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Boo. Divided into four parts, the narrative brings vividly to the page life as it is led today in Annawadi, a squalid and overcrowded migrant settlement of some 3,000 people squatting since 1991 on a half-acre of land owned by the Sahar International Airport. (Boo derives her title from a richly ironic real-world image: a brightly colored ad for floor tiles repeating "Beautiful Forever" across a wall shutting out Annawadi from the view of travelers leaving the airport.) Among her subjects is the fascinating Abdul, a sensitive and cautiously hopeful Muslim teenager tirelessly trading in the trash paid for by recycling firms. Crucially, Boo's commanding ability to convey an interior world comes balanced by concern for the structural realities of India's
economic liberalization (begun the same year as Annawadi's settlement), and her account excels at integrating the party politics and policy strategies behind eruptions of deep-seated religious, caste, and gender divides. Boo's rigorous inquiry and transcendent prose leave an indelible impression of human beings behind the shibboleths of the New India. (Feb.) From the Publisher
"[An] exquisitely accomplished first book. Novelists dream of defining characters this swiftly and beautifully, but Ms. Boo is not a novelist. She is one of those rare, deep-digging journalists who can make truth surpass fiction, a documentarian with a superb sense of human drama. She makes it very easy to forget that this book is the work of a reporter. â€¦. Comparison to Dickens is not unwarranted." -Janet Maslin, The New York Times "A jaw-dropping achievement, an instant classic of narrative nonfictionâ€¦With a cinematic intensityâ€¦Boo transcends and subverts every clichÃ©, cynical or earnest, that we harbor about Indian destitution and gazes directly into the hearts, hopes, and human promise of vibrant people whom you'll not soon forget." -Elle "Riveting, fearlessly reportedâ€¦.[Beautiful Forevers] plays out like a swift, richly plotted novel. That's partly because Boo writes so damn well. But it's also because over the course of three years in India she got extraordinary access to the lives and minds of the Annawadi slum, a settlement nestled jarringly close to a shiny international airport and a row of luxury hotels. Grade: A." -Entertainment Weekly "A tough-minded, inspiring, and irresistible book â€¦ Boo's extraordinary achievement is twofold. She shows us how people in the most desperate circumstances can find the resilience to hang on to their humanity. Just as importantly, she makes us care." -People (four stars) "Extraordinary." --The New York Times Book Review "A shocking-and riveting-portrait of life in modern India. â€¦ This is one stunning piece of narrative nonfiction â€¦ Boo's prose is electric." -O, The Oprah Magazine "Grippingâ€¦A brilliant novelistic narration." -Wall Street Journal "Movingâ€¦. a humane, powerful and insightful bookâ€¦.A book of nonfiction so stellar it puts most novels to shame." -- Boston Globe "A mind-blowing read." -Redbook "An unforgettable true story, meticulously researched with unblinking honestyâ€¦.Pure, astonishing reportage with as unbiased a lens as possible." -Christian Science Monitor "The most riveting Indian story since Slumdog Millionaire-except hers is true." -Marie Claire "Seamless and intimateâ€¦.A scrupulously true storyâ€¦.It's tempting to compare [Behind the Beautiful Forevers] to a novel, butâ€¦that would hardly do it justice."
--Salon "Extraordinaryâ€¦.movingâ€¦.Like the best journeys, Boo's book cracks open our preconceptions and constructs an abiding bridge-at once daunting and inspiring-to a world we would never otherwise recognize as our own." --National Geographic Traveler "An unforgettable true story, meticulously researched with unblinking honestyâ€¦.Pure, astonishing reportage with as unbiased a lens as possible." -Christian Science Monitor "Behind the Beautiful Forevers offers a rebuke to official reports and dry statistics on the global poor...Boo is one of few chroniclers providing this picture. She's a moral force andâ€¦an artist of reverberating power." --The American Prospect "Kate Boo's reporting is a form of kinship. Abdul and Manju and Kalu of Annawadi will not be forgotten. She leads us through their unknown world, her gift of language rising up like a delicate string of necessary lights. There are books that change the way you feel and see; this is one of them. If we receive the fiery spirit from which it was written, it ought to change much more than that." -Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, author of Random Family "I couldn't put Behind the Beautiful Forevers down even when I wanted to-when the misery, abuse and filth that Boo so elegantly and understatedly describes became almost overwhelming. Her book, situated in a slum on the edge of Mumbai's international airport, is one of the most powerful indictments of economic inequality I've ever read. If Bollywood ever decides to do its own version of The Wire, this would be it." -Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed "A beautiful account, told through real-life stories, of the sorrows and joys, the anxieties and stamina, in the lives of the precarious and powerless in urban India whom a booming country has failed to absorb and integrate. A brilliant book that simultaneously informs, agitates, angers, inspires, and instigates." -Amartya Sen, Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard University, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics "Without question the best book yet written on contemporary India. Also, the best work of narrative nonfiction I've read in twenty-five years." -Ramachandra Guha, author of India After Gandhi "There is a lot to like about this book: the prodigious research that it is built on, distilled so expertly that we hardly notice how much we are being taught; the graceful and vivid prose that never calls attention to itself; and above all, the true and moving renderings of the people of the Mumbai slum called Annawadi. Garbage pickers and petty thieves, victims of gruesome injustice-Ms. Boo draws us into their lives, and they do not let us go. This is a superb book." -Tracy Kidder, author of Mountains Beyond Mountains and Strength in What Remains "It might surprise you how completely enjoyable this book is, as rich and beautifully written as a novel. In the hierarchy of long form reporting, Katherine Boo is right up there." -David Sedaris Library Journal
This is Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Boo's (The New Yorker) first book. She takes a look at the stark lives of the inhabitants of Annawadi, a slum across from Mumbai's Sahar Airport, to reveal the wrenching inequality and urban poverty still endemic in India's democracy. Using recorded and videotaped conversations, interviews, documents, and the assistance of interlocutors, Boo profiles the lives of some of the slum dwellers from November 2007 to March 2011. There is Abdul, a young adult scavenger with a profitable trade in recyclables. The one-legged Fatima's home is divided from Abdul's by merely a sheet. Readers follow the treacherous paths of these and other lives. A fateful chain of events leads to a criminal case against Abdul and his family. Boo presents glimpses of the corrupt police who feed
on those without political power or education. She claims she witnessed most of the events described in the book. VERDICT A tour de force, this book is powerful yet far from harrowing. Highly recommended for all collections. [See Prepub Alert, 8/21/11.]-Ravi Shenoy, Naperville P.L., IL Library Journal
India may have a thriving economy and expansive future, but Boo shows us the lives excluded from those attainments as she follows members of a ragged Mumbai slum improvised on the edge of the city's 21st-century expansion. With character studies so eloquent that readers may forget these are realities, Boo charts how Abdul, Fatima, Kalu, and others assert power and hope in the midst of their calamitous existence. (LJ 2/15/12)-Margaret Heilbrun (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Library Journal
You'll know Boo from her work at the Washington Post and now as staff writer for The New Yorker, which has brought her any number of honors, including the MacArthur "genius" award. Her writing is marked by a persuasive sense of humanity, never more than in this study of the hopeful and go-getting inhabitants of the slums surrounding the luxury hotels at the Mumbai airport. Teenaged Abdul aims to better his family with finds from the trash rich tourists have discarded, for instance, while Asha works to make her promising daughter the slum's first female college graduate. Of course, abuse, envy, and political and religious tensions turn up as well. Comparisons to Slumdog Millionaire are inevitable, but this would also match up nicely with fiction from Aravind Adiga (e.g., The White Tiger). For all informed readers; with a seven-city tour. Kirkus Reviews
In her debut, Pulitzer Prize-winning New Yorker staff writer Boo creates an intimate, unforgettable portrait of India's urban poor. Mumbai's sparkling new airport and surrounding luxury hotels welcome visitors to the globalized, privatized, competitive India. Across the highway, on top of tons of garbage and next to a vast pool of sewage, lies the slum of Annawadi, one of many such places that house the millions of poor of Mumbai. For more than three years, Boo lived among and learned from the residents, observing their struggles and quarrels, listening to their dreams and despair, recording it all. She came away with a detailed portrait of individuals daring to aspire but too often denied a chance--their lives viewed as an embarrassment to the modernized wealthy. The author poignantly details these many lives: Abdul, a quiet buyer of recyclable trash who wished for nothing more than what he had; Zehrunisa, Abdul's mother, a Muslim matriarch among hostile Hindu neighbors; Asha, the ambitious slum leader who used her connections and body in a vain attempt to escape from Annawadi; Manju, her beautiful, intelligent daughter whose hopes laid in the new India of opportunity; Sunil, the master scavenger, a little boy who would not grow; Meena, who drank rat poison rather than become a teenage bride in a remote village; Kalu, the charming garbage thief who was murdered and left by the side of the road. Boo brilliantly brings to life the residents of Annawadi, allowing the reader to know them and admire the fierce intelligence that allows them to survive in a world not made for them. The best book yet written on India in the throes of a brutal transition. Janet Maslin
â€¦exquisitely accomplishedâ€¦[Boo] is one of those rare, deep-digging journalists who can make truth surpass fiction, a documentarian with a superb sense of human drama. She makes it very easy to forget that this book is the work of a reporter. -The New York Times Pankaj Mishra
â€¦extraordinaryâ€¦the book's narrative stitches, with much skillfully unspoken analysis, some carefully researched individual lives. Its considerable literary power is also derived from Boo's soberly elegant proseâ€¦But Behind the Beautiful Forevers is, above all, a moral inquiry in the great tradition of Oscar Lewis and Michael Harringtonâ€¦Her eye is as shrewdly trained on the essential facts of politics and commerce as on the intimate, the familial and, indeed, the monstrously absurdâ€¦ -The New York Times Book Review Shashi Tharoor
This is an astonishing bookâ€¦on several levels: as a worm's-eye view of the "undercity" of one of the world's largest metropolises; as an intensely reported, deeply felt account of the lives, hopes and fears of people traditionally excluded from literate narratives; as a story that truly hasn't been told before, at least not about India and not by a foreigner.â €¦[Behind the Beautiful Forevers] is a searing account, in effective and racy prose, that reads like a thrilling novel but packs a punch Sinclair Lewis might have envied. -The Washington Post The Barnes & Noble Review
What's on the other side of the wall? It's a question that likely didn't trouble the minds of most well-heeled tourists zipping from the international airport to one of the ultra-luxury hotels in Mumbai. The wall is one that, until recently, lined the highway to the terminal, painted sunshine yellow with a corporate logo along its length reading "BEAUTIFUL FOREVER." Its faux- cheer had a single purpose: to block the unsettling view of a slum known as Annawadi - a makeshift settlement that rose on a former construction site and became home to thousands of residents whose shocking poverty stood in dramatic contrast to the lives of the people who passed by unawares. The wall itself has been torn down, but the residents remain, the subject of Katherine Boo's uncompromising and important Behind the Beautiful Forevers. The facts in the book are pretty stark. Of the 3,000 people behind the yellow wall, six have real jobs. The rest, like 85 percent of Indian workers elsewhere, work in the grey economy: picking rags or scavenging bits of scrap metal. They line up to get water from one of the few "trickle faucets" the city turns on for three hours a day. When they go to hospital, they sleep on urine-soaked mattresses; when they go to jail, on charges as often capricious as not, they sleep standing up, barely able to breathe for the crushing proximity of other people as desperate as they. As indelibly described by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and New Yorker staff writer Boo, who spent three years among them to research her book, these slum-dwellers are not merely textbook examples of "Representative Poor Persons." They are individual human beings with troubles and joys every bit as real as those of the tourists, but which are rarely heard by the world beyond. Their baby brothers drown in kitchen pails. Their big sisters go bald because the boils on their heads erupt in worms. As parents, they are accustomed to the sound of the police beating children like Abdul, a teenager accused in a Kafkaesque court case, whose age his mother isn't sure of because "you didn't keep track of a child's years when you were fighting daily to keep him from starving." And of course they experience corruption in interactions with nearly every person they encounter, not only a local pol "with enough oil in his hair to fry garlic" but also with nuns and doctors and teachers - 60 percent of whom have not finished college and need to grease various palms to survive. Asha, the unofficial "slumlord" of Annawadi and one of most fascinating figures in Boo's narrative, has spun her modest education into a life of political fixing and influencepeddling to raise her family to an infinitesimally higher level than that of her neighbors. Meanwhile, the justice system whose power looms large over their collective lives is revealed to be a market like the garbage- picking system, where guilt and innocence are sold as a matter of course. The networks of gossip, jealousy, and friendship that Boo traces among her interviewees highlight the bustling community's resemblance to a small town - - albeit a ramshackle one - anywhere in the world. Annawadi is one of a number of slums throughout Mumbai - nicknamed "Slumbai" despite its position as the financial capital of the subcontinent as it undergoes unparalleled boom times. It was settled two decades ago by a band of laborers trucked in
to repair an airport runway who decided to stay on after the job had exhausted itself. "In an area with little unclaimed space, a sodden, snake-filled bit of brushland across the street from the international terminal seemed the least-bad place to live." Perched beside a sewage lake, this particular slum is "nothing special, in the context of the slums of Mumbai. Every house [is] off- kilter, so the less off-kilter [look] straight." There's been progress since the early days, when nothing more substantial than a bed sheet separated one shack from another. Residents today may still trap frogs and rats for dinner but sometimes are able to scavenge more wellrounded meals from hotel garbage dumpsters. The preferred method of suicide is now drinking pesticide instead of self-immolation. Ironically, the ever- growing layers of corruption offer spin-off opportunities for any residents enterprising enough to play along with it. That's in part why the inhabitants of Annawadi are deemed fortunate by Indian standards. Believe it or not, Annawadians are officially considered among the 100 million Indians freed from poverty in the past two decades. They may still occasionally resort to eating scrub grass at the sewage lake's edge, but they are lucky enough to be at the periphery of an astounding economic revival, able or unable to grab hold of whatever upward mobility they can. Prosperity may be relative, but people are people everywhere. Putting a face on this formerly faceless slum reminds us that there are playful, even amorous people in the most hellish situations. They don't stop being human just because they happen to live in inhuman circumstances. In a thoughtful afterword, the author says she wanted to present a balanced look at life behind the sunshine-yellow wall. Her people have tough lives, she admits, but "if a reader comes away-thinking of them only as pathetic socioeconomic specimens I'll have failed as a writer." She has not failed. Daniel Asa Rose is the author of Larry's Kidney: Being the True Story of How I Found Myself in China with My Black-Sheep Cousin and His Mail-Order Bride, Skirting the Law to Get Him a Transplant...and Save His Life, named one of the top books of the year by Publishers Weekly. Reviewer: Danierl Asa Rose
Katherine Boo's book is one of the finest I've ever read. Her prose is both lyrical and sharp, and she does not indulge in sappy (and inappropriate) pity for the people of Annawadi. She brings their lives to us, thoughtfully and respectfully sharing the bonds she's developed with them and with the culture of this under-city over three years. A tour de force-don't miss it.
This is a very good book that left me with mixed emotions. I had never imagined the poverty that these people live in. It made me realize that the lifestyle of our poor people, would be like winning the lottery for them. I thought about the corruption that happens everyday, and is an expected part of life. I hope you will read the book, it is well written and thought provoking.
I bought this book based on others reviews however, i just could not finish it. Two thirds of the way through i quit reading and moved on to another book. This was definitely not a book that i ha trouble putting down.....dissapointed.
Read An Excerpt 1. Annawadi LET IT KEEP, the moment when Officer Fish Lips met Abdul in the police station. Rewind, see Abdul running backward, away from the station and the airport, shirt buttons opening as he flies back toward his home. See the flames engulfing a disabled woman in a pink- flowered tunic shrink to nothing but a matchbook on the floor. See Fatima minutes earlier, dancing on crutches to a raucous love song, her delicate features unscathed. Keep rewinding, back seven more months, and stop at an ordinary day in January 2008. It was about as hopeful a season as there had ever been in the years since a bitty slum popped up in the biggest city of a country that holds one-third of the planet's poor. A country dizzy now with development and circulating money. Dawn came gusty, as it often did in January, the month of treed kites and head colds. Because his family lacked the floor space for all of its members to lie down, Abdul was asleep on the gritty maidan, which for years had passed as his bed. His mother stepped carefully over one of his younger brothers, and then another, bending low to Abdul's ear. "Wake up, fool!" she said exuberantly. "You think your work is dreaming?" Superstitious, Zehrunisa had noticed that some of the family's most profitable days occurred after she had showered abuses on her eldest son. January's income being pivotal to the family's latest plan of escape from Annawadi, she had decided to make the curses routine. Abdul rose with minimal whining, since the only whining his mother tolerated was her own. Besides, this was the gentle-going hour in which he hated Annawadi least. The pale sun lent the sewage lake a sparkling silver cast, and the parrots nesting at the far side of the lake could still be heard over the jets. Outside his neighbors' huts, some held together by duct tape and rope, damp rags were discreetly freshening bodies. Children in school-uniform neckties were hauling pots of water from the public taps. A languid line extended from an orange concrete block of public toilets. Even goats' eyes were heavy with sleep. It was the moment of the intimate and the familial, before the great pursuit of the small market niche got under way. One by one, construction workers departed for a crowded intersection where site supervisors chose day laborers. Young girls began threading marigolds into garlands, to be hawked in Airport Road traffic. Older women sewed patches onto pink-and-blue cotton quilts for a company that paid by the piece. In a tiny, sweltering plastic- molding factory, bare-chested men cranked gears that would turn colored beads into ornaments to be hung from rearview mirrors-smiling ducks and pink cats with jewels around their necks that they couldn't imagine anyone, anywhere, buying. And Abdul crouched on the maidan, beginning to sort two weeks' worth of purchased trash, a stained shirt hitching up his knobby spine. His general approach toward his neighbors was this: "The better I know you, the more I will dislike you, and the more you will dislike me. So let us keep to ourselves." But deep in his own work, as he would be this morning, he could imagine his fellow Annawadians laboring companionably alongside him. ANNAWADI SAT TWO hundred yards off the Sahar Airport Road, a stretch where new India collided with old India and made new India late. Chauffeurs in SUVs honked furiously at the bicycle delivery boys peeling off from a slum chicken shop, each carrying a rack of three hundred eggs. Annawadi itself was nothing special, in the context of the slums of Mumbai. Every house was off-kilter, so less off-kilter looked like straight. Sewage and sickness looked like life. The slum had been settled in 1991 by a band of laborers trucked in from the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu to repair a runway at the international airport. When the runway work was complete, they decided to stay near the airport and its tantalizing construction possibilities. In an area with little unclaimed space, a sodden, snake-filled bit of
brushland across the street from the international terminal seemed the least-bad place to live. Other poor people considered the spot too wet to be habitable, but the Tamils set to work, hacking down the brush that harbored the snakes, digging up dirt in drier places and packing it into the mud. After a month, their bamboo poles stopped flopping over when they were stuck in the ground. Draping empty cement sacks over the poles for cover, they had a settlement. Residents of neighboring slums provided its name: Annawadi-the land of annas, a respectful Tamil word for older brothers. Less respectful terms for Tamil migrants were in wider currency. But other poor citizens had seen the Tamils sweat to summon solid land from a bog, and that labor had earned a certain deference. Seventeen years later, almost no one in this slum was considered poor by official Indian benchmarks. Rather, the Annawadians were among roughly one hundred million Indians freed from poverty since 1991, when, around the same moment as the small slum's founding, the central government embraced economic liberalization. The Annawadians were thus part of one of the most stirring success narratives in the modern history of global market capitalism, a narrative still unfolding. True, only six of the slum's three thousand residents had permanent jobs. (The rest, like 85 percent of Indian workers, were part of the informal, unorganized economy.) True, a few residents trapped rats and frogs and fried them for dinner. A few ate the scrub grass at the sewage lake's edge. And these individuals, miserable souls, thereby made an inestimable contribution to their neighbors. They gave those slumdwellers who didn't fry rats and eat weeds, like Abdul, a felt sense of their upward mobility. The airport district was spewing waste that winter, the peak season for tourism, business travel, and society weddings, whose lack of restraint in 2008 reflected a stock market at an all-time high. Better still for Abdul, a frenzy of Chinese construction in advance of the summer's Beijing Olympics had inflated the price of scrap metal worldwide. It was a fine time to be a Mumbai garbage-trader, not that that was the term passersby used for Abdul. Some called him garbage, and left it at that. This morning, culling screws and hobnails from his pile, he tried to keep an eye on Annawadi's goats, who liked the smell of the dregs in his bottles and the taste of the paste beneath the labels. Abdul didn't ordinarily mind them nosing around, but these days they were fonts of liquid shit-a menace. The goats belonged to a Muslim man who ran a brothel from his hut and considered his whores a pack of malingerers. In an attempt to diversify, he had been raising the animals to sell for sacrifice at Eid, the festival marking the end of Ramadan. The goats had proved as troublesome as the girls, though. Twelve of the herd of twenty-two had died, and the survivors were in intestinal distress. The brothelkeeper blamed black magic on the part of the Tamils who ran the local liquor still. Others suspected the goats' drinking source, the sewage lake. Late at night, the contractors modernizing the airport dumped things in the lake. Annawadians also dumped things there: most recently, the decomposing carcasses of twelve goats. Whatever was in that soup, the pigs and dogs that slept in its shallows emerged with bellies stained blue. Some creatures survived the lake, though, and not only the malarial mosquitoes. As the morning went on, a fisherman waded through the water, one hand pushing aside cigarette packs and blue plastic bags, the other dimpling the surface with a net. He would take his catch to the Marol market to be ground into fish oil, a health product for which demand had surged now that it was valued in the West. Rising to shake out a cramp in his calf, Abdul was surprised to find the sky as brown as flywings, the sun signaling through the haze of pollution the arrival of afternoon. When sorting, he routinely lost track of the hour. His little sisters were playing with the One Leg's daughters on a makeshift wheelchair, a cracked plastic lawn chair flanked by rusted bicycle wheels. Mirchi, already home from ninth grade, was sprawled in the doorway of the family hut, an unread math book on his lap. Mirchi was impatiently awaiting his best friend, Rahul, a Hindu boy who lived a few huts away, and who had become an Annawadi celebrity. This month, Rahul had done what Mirchi dreamed of: broken the barrier between the slum world and the rich world. Rahul's mother, Asha, a kindergarten teacher with mysterious connections to local politicians and the police, had
managed to secure him several nights of temp work at the Intercontinental Hotel, across the sewage lake. Rahul-a piefaced, snaggle-toothed ninth grader-had seen the overcity opulence firsthand. And here he came, wearing an ensemble purchased from the profits of this stroke of fortune: cargo shorts that rode low on his hips, a shiny oval belt buckle of promising recyclable weight, a black knit cap pulled down to his eyes. "Hiphop style," Rahul termed it. The previous day had been the sixtieth anniversary of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, a national holiday on which elite Indians once considered it poor taste to throw an extravagant party. But Rahul had worked a manic event at the Intercontinental, and knew Mirchi would appreciate the details. "Mirchi, I cannot lie to you," Rahul said, grinning. "On my side of the hall there were five hundred women in only half-clothes-like they forgot to put on the bottom half before they left the house!" "Aaagh, where was I?" said Mirchi. "Tell me. Anyone famous?" "Everyone famous! A Bollywood party. Some of the stars were in the VIP area, behind a rope, but John Abraham came out to near where I was. He had this thick black coat, and he was smoking cigarettes right in front of me. And Bipasha Basu was supposedly there, but I couldn't be sure it was really her or just some other item girl, because if the manager sees you looking at the guests, he'll fire you, take your whole pay-they told us that twenty times before the party started, like we were weak in the head. You have to focus on the tables and the rug. Then when you see a dirty plate or a napkin you have to snatch it and take it to the trash bin in the back. Oh, that room was looking nice. First we laid this thick white carpet-you stood on it and sank right down. Then they lit white candles and made it dark like a disco, and on this one table the chef put two huge dolphins made out of flavored ice. One dolphin had cherries for eyes-" "Bastard, forget the fish, tell me about the girls," Mirchi protested. "They want you to look when they dress like that." "Seriously, you can't look. Not even at the rich people's toilets. Security will chuck you out. The toilets for the workers were nice, though. You have a choice between Indian- or American-style." Rahul, who had a patriotic streak, had peed in the Indian one, an open drain in the floor. Other boys joined Rahul outside the Husains' hut. Annawadians liked to talk about the hotels and the depraved things that likely went on inside. One drug-addled scavenger talked to the hotels: "I know you're trying to kill me, you sisterfucking Hyatt!" But Rahul's accounts had special value, since he didn't lie, or at least not more than one sentence out of twenty. This, along with a cheerful disposition, made him a boy whose privileges other boys did not resent. Rahul gamely conceded he was a nothing compared with the Intercontinental's regular workers. Many of the waiters were collegeeducated, tall, and light-skinned, with cellphones so shiny their owners could fix their hair in the reflections. Some of the waiters had mocked Rahul's long, blue-painted thumbnail, which was high masculine style at Annawadi. When he cut the nail off, they'd teased him about how he talked. The Annawadians' deferential term for a rich man, sa'ab, was not the proper term in the city's moneyed quarters, he reported to his friends. "The waiters say it makes you sound Dclass-like a thug, a tapori," he said. "The right word is sir." "Sirrrrrrr," someone said, rolling the r's, then everyone started saying it, laughing. The boys stood close together, though there was plenty of space in the maidan. For people who slept in close quarters, his foot in my mouth, my foot in hers, the feel of skin against skin got to be a habit. Abdul stepped around them, upending an armful of torn paper luggage tags on the maidan and scrambling after the tags that blew away. The other boys paid him no notice. Abdul didn't talk much, and when he did, it was as if he'd spent weeks privately working over some little idea. He might have had a friend or two if he'd known how to tell a good story. Once, working on this shortcoming, he'd floated a tale about having been inside the Intercontinental himself-how a Bollywood movie called Welcome had been filming there, and how he'd seen Katrina Kaif dressed all in white. It had been a feeble fiction. Rahul had seen through it immediately. But Rahul's latest report would allow Abdul's future lies
to be better informed. A Nepali boy asked Rahul about the women in the hotels. Through slats in the hotel fences, he had seen some of them smoking-"not one cigarette, but many"-while they waited for their drivers to pull up to the entrance. "Which village do they come from, these women?" "Listen, idiot," Rahul said affectionately. "The white people come from all different countries. You're a real hick if you don't know this basic thing." "Which countries? America?" Rahul couldn't say. "But there are so many Indian guests in the hotels, too, I guarantee you." Indians who were "healthy-sized"-big and fat, as opposed to stunted, like the Nepali boy and many other children here. Rahul's first job had been the Intercontinental's New Year's Eve party. The New Year's bashes at Mumbai's luxury hotels were renowned, and scavengers had often returned to Annawadi bearing discarded brochures. Celebrate 2008 in high style at Le Royal Meridien Hotel! Take a stroll down the streets of Paris splurging with art, music & food. Get scintillated with live performances. Book your boarding passes and Bon Voyage! 12,000 rupees per couple, with champagne. The advertisements were printed on glossy paper, for which recyclers paid two rupees, or four U.S. cents, per kilo. Rahul had been underwhelmed by the New Year's rituals of the rich. "Moronic," he had concluded. "Just people drinking and dancing and standing around acting stupid, like people here do every night." "The hotel people get strange when they drink," he told his friends. "Last night at the end of the party, there was one herogood-looking, stripes on his suit, expensive cloth. He was drunk, full tight, and he started stuffing bread into his pants pockets, jacket pockets. Then he put more rolls straight into his pants! Rolls fell on the floor and he was crawling under the table to get them. This one waiter was saying the guy must have been hungry, earlier- that whiskey brought back the memory. But when I get rich enough to be a guest at a big hotel, I'm not going to act like such a loser."
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