Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers (2012)

Behind the Beautiful Forevers
It was a smogged-out, prosperity-driven obstacle course up there in the over-city, from which wads of possibility had tumbled down to the slums. (p. xii)

Fifteen-year-old Meena, whose hut was around the corner, craved a taste of the freedom and adventure she’d seen on TV serials, instead of an arranged marriage and domestic submission. Sunil, an undersized twelve-year-old scavenger, wanted to eat enough to start growing. Asha, a fighter-cock of a woman who lived by the public toilet, was differently ambitious. She longed to be Annawadi’s first female slumlord, then ride the city’s inexorable corruption into the middle class. Her teenaged daughter, Manju, considered her own aim more noble: to become Annawadi’s first female college graduate. (p. xvii)

Garbage and water buffalo, slum-side. Glimmerglass Hyatt on the other. Fumbling with shirt buttons as he ran. After two hundred yards he gained the wide thoroughfare that led to the airport, which was bordered by blooming gardens, pretties of a city he barely knew. (p. xxi)

Annawadi sat two hundred yards off the Sahar Airport Road, a stretch where new India and old India collided and made new India late. (p. 5)

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. (p. 6)

The airport and hotels spewed waste in the 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 Beijing Olympics had inflated the price of scrap metal worldwide. (p. 6)

Others suspected the goat’s drinking source, the sewage lake. (p. 7)

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. (p. 7)

Bad lungs were a toll you paid to live near progress. (p. 14)

As group identities based on caste, ethnicity, and religion gradually attenuated, anger and hope was being privatised, like so much else in Mumbai. (p. 20)

A slum-dweller would request a loan for an imaginary business; a local government official would certify how many jobs it would bring to a needy community; and an executive of the state-owned Dena bank would approve it. (p. 25)

The ads were for Italianate floor tiles, and the corporate slogan ran the wall’s length: BEAUTIFUL FOREVER BEAUTIFUL FOREVER BEAUTIFUL FOREVER. (p. 37)

The processions of dolorous slumdwellers seemed even smaller against the outsized enthusiasms of the airport city. Giant billboards announced the forthcoming launch of an Indian version of People magazine. Chaffeur-driven black sedans rolled of the Hyatt—attendees of a pharmaceutical convention, taking a break to check out the town. (p. 116)

Sunil turned and walked home, past the immense pilings of the elevated expressway being constructed in the middle of Airport Road, past a line of signs GVK had planted that said WE CARE WE CARE, past the long wall advertising floor tiles that stay beautiful forever. He felt small and sad and useless. Who had done such a thing to his friend? But the fog of shock and grief didn’t fully obscure his understanding of the social hierarchy in which he lived. To Annawadi boys, Kalu had been a star. To the authorities of the overcity, he was a nuisance case to be dispensed with. (p. 168)

And another set of questions nagged, about profound and juxtaposed inequality—the signature fact of so many modern cities. (p. 248)

—Katherine Boo. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Slum. London: Portobello, 2012.