A friend passed me a book she said she loved, “Behind the beautiful forevers” by Katherine Boo. Throughout the process I thought it was fiction based on inspiration from reality. I had only found out from the author’s note at the end that it was non-fiction (yes, I’m embarrassed). She had documented the stories from Annawadi, a Mumbai slum, for three years.
When I read of people like her – another one that comes to my mind immediately is Christina Lamb – I feel a strange combination of emotions: shame, guilt, inspiration and pride. Sometimes I feel like I want to throw in the towel even from the comfort of my armchair, while these people visit war zones or environments of despair in order to do their part in trying to bring these horrendous issues to our collective consciousness.
I cannot comprehend how they can be exposed to so much ugliness, suffering and injustice, to know and see that the people they are writing about are just as human as they are, and yet persevere without being broken themselves.
I don’t know how I will ever reconcile my own perpetual existential crisis to the stories of pure defiance and resilience arising from people who are born into conditions of despair:
”The slumdwellers I’d already come to know in India were neither mythic nor pathetic. They were certainly not passive. Across the country, in communities decidedly short on saviors, they were improvising, often ingeniously, in pursuit of the new economic possibilities of the twenty-first century.”
More than three years, Katherine Boo spent in those slums, interviewing, investigating, asking, living. It was hard for me to read, her book, and perhaps that is the purpose she wanted to achieve. For people like me to flinch at its contents.
I am really disturbed by the portraits of the slum life she had so beautifully painted and I wonder at the eternal question – why do people have more simply because of the geographical location of their births? In trying to seek my answer, perhaps I am lifted out of the hope that at the very least, I am trying to ask the question.
I find great comfort in the below quote, because it represents the faith I am trying to hold, that even we are perhaps beyond repair, there must lie some hope on the horizon – our younger ones:
”I found Annawadi children to be the most dependable witnesses. They were largely indifferent to the political, economic, and religious contentions of their elders, and unconcerned about how their accounts might sound.”