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The Ragtag World

Sep 21, 2012

Katherine Boo in her book Beautiful Forevers talks about the social deformities of ignoring the downtrodden sections in India’s urban spaces. The author does not endeavour to discover solutions of these oddities. Her work is close to judge the peoples living in these ghettos through personal and social investigations rather impersonalizing it in the overtures of remote policy corners.

Her work is seriously meaningful enough to be read by the readers of diverse tastes and from across the geographies. The plight of an integrated economy like India with impressive global footprints cannot be seen in isolation, so such rational documentation of slums, a different urban climax needs careful attention!

Certainly, truisms about the general state of crisis that India’s growth has produced are not hard to corroborate with reading Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Tales of Mumbai’s Annawadi slums, which this book consist appears less a commentary and more like a moving description of lives living below the minimum human standard. Unlike the ‘India books’ written by complacent seasonal western visitors, quest of Katherine with her debut book is adequately reflexive of her commitment to observe and present the sufferings of India’s urban wretchedness through close angles.

It was not surprising, if she started missing her time spent in slums after the completion of her project, even though momentously, she indeed lived with the participants and factors of this book. Ramchandra Guha pronounces this book as: “The best book about contemporary India, the best work of non-fiction that I have read in the past twenty-five years”. This observation made by the India’s leading social historian confirms that the deeply rooted local problems, too, could be carried for broad augmentation in the work of a visiting scholar!

The last two decades of India’s open trade policies have given its economy a quantitative macro statistical size and qualitative advantage for a selected section of the privileged population-for rest, its gain remains asymmetric and horribly unsustainable. In present framework, India’s celebrated growth with hyper highlighted agenda of socio-economic equity is exactly a cruel expression of unwilling policy making to sustain a just and fair society based on democratic rights of equal opportunity. Not surprising, by the preferential policy concentration, India is producing a non desirable dual face for its most cosmopolitan cities---here Mukesh Ambani is making $2billion “dream house” in a city like Mumbai, which is densely populated by 56 per cent slums, even according to government’s conservative records.

Mumbai is no longer in the race of becoming a world class financial hub but yet, it’s home for the dozens of dollar billionaire who have overgrown in the recent years through increasing cronyism hatched by the lobby driven government at centre, and now they are in the hurried race to acquire the resources spread from Kalahandi to remote Africa. Those who are out of this economic celebration are out of its staggering outcomes; Katherine has shown the touching sensibility to point out towards the risk of such divergence which allows pauperised living conditions for a sight to watch from Mumbai’s opulent five star hotels and illegally/immorally high rising buildings. Both the world in contradiction can’t be taken ideal or even fit for India’s overblown aspiration which is looming large at global platform but terribly shrinking at home front.
Atul Kumar Thakur

(Writer is a New Delhi based journalist, can be contacted here:

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