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How India's cripplingly poor people live.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers - Katherine Boo

How India's cripplingly poor people live.

I hadn't realised, when I first started reading, that this was a non-fiction book, and I'm so glad that someone pointed this out to me. Knowing that it was true and all the crazy characters were not just a figment of the author's imagination, made it a much more powerful read.

It is a fascinating insight into the way people live in the ramshackle settlement area of Annawadi, that I have only ever seen from a plane. We are told that roughly ninety thousand people live there. The day to day lives of this population of displaced people are heartbreaking in their struggle. Refuse collection is a significant source of income, whether legally or illegally obtained. But even this is not easy, as collectors are chased away from the sources of this 'rubbish'.
It's a cut-throat world and only the strongest survive. When Abdul, a teenage refuse dealer is accused of killing the family's tenant, justice is impossible without money changing hands, and lies are believed as readily as the truth.
"Abdul now understood. Innocence and guilt could be bought and sold like a kilo of polyurethane bags."

Just as the residents think that the new money coming into Mumbai might improve their lives too, the recession hits, and as jobs become even more scarce, so too does their income.
"Poor people didn't unite; they competed ferociously amongst themselves for grains as slender as they were provisional."

Suicide was shockingly prevalent, although that was hardly surprising under the circumstances, but there were also many who just kept picking themselves up and starting over. It is quite amazing what drive keeps them going.

The author became involved with these people over a period of four years, from 2007 to 2011, after her marriage to an Indian citizen. With the help of several translators and a lot of determination, she was able to come to an understanding of the way the Annawadians live, work and think. The result is an eye-opening read.