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Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Slum

By Katherine Boo
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  • Contains 10 key ideas
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Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Behind the Beautiful Forevers describes life in the Annawadi slum in India, close to Mumbai’s international airport. These blinks tell the story of families who live in squalid conditions but still dream of a better life, even though the odds are overwhelmingly against them.

Key idea 1 of 10

In the slum of Annawadi, the smallest coincidence can thwart your attempt to make a better life for yourself.

All people have hopes and dreams for the future. This is true even for the inhabitants of the illegal settlement – or slum – of Annawadi, next to Mumbai’s international airport. But their dreams can be shattered by something as simple as a neighborhood disagreement.

Meet the Husain family, who are fairly well off by Annawadian standards, earning up to eleven dollars a day with their garbage business. Their dream is to buy a plot of land on a legal settlement and build a new home. In fact, they have already paid a deposit for a plot.

But then, one day as they are renovating their home, the Husains accidentally shake a brick wall that they share with a mentally unstable neighbor, Fatima. The only damage is some rubble falling into a pot of rice Fatima happens to be cooking, but since she is jealous of the Husains’ “wealth,” she claims her home has been destroyed and demands compensation.

The Husains’ refusal sends Fatima into such a rage that she sets herself on fire. At the hospital, she receives grossly inadequate treatment for her burns and subsequently dies.

The tragedy is further compounded when several members of the Husain household are arrested and falsely charged with the murder of their neighbor.

Now the Husains begin to see their meager savings disappear.

First, since the local justice system is wholly corrupt, they need to pay various bribes.

Second, the neighbors are also aware of the Husains’ supposed wealth, so they demand payment from them just to tell the police the truth about what happened.

Third, when the Husains are jailed before their trial, they lose their income because they can no longer work.

Fourth, they have to sell a part of their original hut to pay their lawyers, further hurting their garbage business.

And finally, since they cannot afford to buy the new plot of land for which they’d paid a deposit, it is sold to another family. The Husains are not reimbursed.

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