Tag Archives: book review

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: An analysis in inclusion

Slums  in Bombay are an excellent example of the growing inequalities, financial and social. My analysis is located in attempts to highlighting the asymmetry of information, disintegration of the individual in a social settings, and most importantly financial exclusions of people in the slums

Slum tourism has today become a quintessential experience in the bucket list of a tourist visiting Bombay, especially after the success of Slumdog Millionaire. The Oscar winning movie has led to an increase of organized and guided visits to slums, especially Dharavi. However, before slum tourism became popular, and the movie became a roaring hit, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist ‘felt a shortage in India-based non-fiction’, and wrote her first book Behind the Beautiful Forevers.

“It was a fine time to be a garbage trader, not that that was the term passersby used for Abdul,” Katherine Boo writes in Behind the Beautiful Forevers. “Some called him garbage, and left it at that.” This book is an enthralling tale of a scavenger boy named Abdul, who is introduced in the first half of the book, as a boy growing in Bombay’s Annawadi slum, whose mother Zehrunisa was foul mouthed, and his father’s lung was wrecked due to tuberculosis and garbage. Hence, he single-handedly runs his ‘business.’ The action rises when his neighbour Fatima sets herself on fire and lodges a police complaint against Abdul and his family. The book follows through the criminal procedure of the case, and ends with Abdul and his father being freed from the prison. It also traces the life of Asha, a Shiv Sena worker, her college-going daughter Manju, who also teaches the slum kids English in the evening, and her son Rahul, who works in a posh hotel nearby. We are also introduced to other minor characters such as Manju’s friend Meena, who faces pressure from her family to marry the man of their choice, who Meena has never met, and Abdul’s friend Sunil who made great profits when Abdul was in juvenile care.

Explaining the role of the state, Jan Nijman (2009), writes, “It is hard to imagine this persistence of slums without effective facilitation by the state. It has, after all, the power in principle to eradicate, to legalise, to prohibit, to build roads and provide services, or to do nothing at all.” Perhaps Boo, while writing, internalized this view, as her argument about the apathy of the State at the inhuman treatment of the citizens on Annawadi is a constant occurrence throughout the book, especially as she describes the criminal justice system in a heartbreaking manner. Keeping in mind Foucault’s work on ‘governmentality,’ Roma Chatterjee (1999; 2010) writes, “It is assumed that conditions of extreme social inequality make the articulation of citizenship impossible in any meaningful sense.” The three successive types of role the government has taken, according to her, with respect to the slum population of Bombay are of controller, provider and facilitator. The policies, thus acknowledge “major shifts in its self-presentation while trying to rationalise these shifts within a single frame of reference.” This rationalization is exemplified through the background of politics, which only results in the parties involved benefitting from the position of power, while the slum-dwellers have no significant effect, positive or negative, on who’s the local political leader.

What makes the book stand out is its narrative and style, in that it flows freely, like a work of fiction, and we do not, till the author’s note find out that they are real life characters, and a real story. In a style most fiction-writers would envy, Katherine Boo narrates a journalistic documentation particularizing human behaviour in a world of globalizing markets, terrorist attacks, and global recession rocked Bombay. It expresses articulately a staggering tragedy of people in a slum, without arousing pity, and the inequalities that they face, in terms of financial and institutional exclusion, corruption, poverty, and helplessness.

The ultimate question the book tries to answer is “Why aren’t the slum-dwellers bound together by common interests and common enemies?”  (Maslin 2012) In an attempt to answer this question, Boo narrates the incident of One Leg, Fatima, who is oppressed, one reason for which is her physical disability. Abdul and his family as well as Fatima belong to the religious minority of Muslims in the slum, and they constantly fought over the common wall they shared. Even though they feared suppression due to religious affiliation, the need for upward mobility surpassed, resulting, ultimately in the death of Fatima. Similarly, it pinpoints educational exclusion and corruption through Asha’s family. “When foreign journalists came to Mumbai to see whether self-help groups were empowering women, government officials sometimes took them to Asha. Her job was to gather random female neighbours to smile demurely while the officials went on about how their collective had lifted them from poverty.” (Boo 2012). Manju, her daughter who by-hearts her psychology notes by reciting it to the children who have come to her to learn English. She crystallizes what she discovered: “Instead, powerless individuals blamed other powerless individuals for what they lacked. Sometimes they tried to destroy one another. Sometimes, like Fatima, they destroyed themselves in the process.” (Boo 2012)

Apart from the obvious flaw of the methodology of ethnography, the Katherine Boo has done a wonderful job of it. For a blonde-haired woman from New York to mingle in with the population of slum-dwellers in Bombay would have been a mountainous task; yet as she spent years trying to get the people to talk to her as she documented the events with an unbiased fashion. Another flaw is that the book is too crowded-there are many stories woven into one book. However, seeing that it is a story set in a Bombay slum it seems but apt.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers thus stand for everything behind the sunshine-yellow ads for ceramic tile that are painted on a concrete wall, which repeats the words ‘Beautiful’ and Forever’. Behind these Beautiful Forevers, lay the sprawling slum of Annawadi. It may also represent the seemingly beautiful forevers of the city of Bombay (commonly represented as ‘the city of dreams’), behind which the ugly truth of poverty, exclusion, and helplessness lies.

Thus, Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a breathtaking book to read, as Katherine Boo weaves a tale of ‘life, death and hope in a Mumbai Undercity’

Twitter: @WallflowerBlack




Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell.

Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell.

There was buzz all over the internet about this one. Tumblr had chosen it as the first read for its book club. As somebody who practically lives on the internet, you can’t ignore something like that. So obviously I had to read it. And I thank each one of you cray internet peeps for this.

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell is just another coming of age novel. But it’s different, because it’s hilarious and light hearted. And it’s about each one of us, because it’s about growing up and realizing our uniqueness. More than anything, it’s about trusting each of our abilities and trusting ourselves.

Fangirl is a story about Cather Avery (reasons why her name is Cather is explained heartbreakingly in the novel), who is, predictably enough, a fangirl. She writes Simon Snow fanfiction, (which is basically like Harry Potter in this canon) which has hundreds of thousands of hits and reviews. Her fans have accepted her headcanon- her fic Carry On, Simon, as the fanfiction, some claiming they love it more than the original books.

Fanfiction. We've all been there, haven't we?

Fanfiction. We’ve all been there, haven’t we?

She goes to college in Nebraska, as her twin, Wren, chooses. But to her shock, Wren decides for them that they wouldn’t stay in the same dorm room, in a desperate seeking of individual identity. This is a story of Cath trying to find herself- earlier a half of a pair of twins, into her own whole.

Cath is your average socially anxious teenager who has tens of thousands of online acquaintances. She is so anxious that she lives off peanut butter and protein bars for months, because she finds it anxiety-provoking to ask for directions  before her roommate intervenes and takes her to the dining room.

“In new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you can’t Google.)” 

Her only ray of hope in the whole ordeal that is college, is a Fiction-Writing class she enrolled in, and Nick, her writing friend with whom she writes twice a week. The novel’s best parts are where Cath explains the process of writing, why she writes, and how she fights this fear of writing fiction, that is non-fanfiction. You can’t help but empathize with her as she battles self-esteem issues, issues of identity, and finding herself.

On Writing. Best. :)

On Writing. Best. 🙂

However, the book won’t appeal to someone who doesn’t get online fandoms, fangirling, and people who are social

If you’re wondering if you should read this-
Read it if you love writing.
Read it if you’ve been a part of a fandom before
Read it if you have read fanfiction before.
Read it if you’ve written fanfiction.
Read if you’ve spent forever on the internet.
Read it if you’ve ignored what you were supposed to do because you were on the internet.
Read it if you are socially anxious.
Read it if you are a little too scared you might have some psychological disorder because you have tried, but remain socially awkward.
Read it if you are trying to find yourself.
Read it if you’re currently doubting yourself.

When in doubt...

When in doubt…

It is an amazing feeling to be gotten, isn’t it? This book is for all of us who sometimes feel invisible because nobody gets it.

Note: Not a review, just an opinion.
Sorry for ignoring. Exams, college, assignments and all that jazz. 😛

Rate, Comment and Subscribe. Reach out. 😀


Twitter: @WallflowerBlack

At That Moment… I Swear We Were Infinite

Yes, the only reason I read The Perks of Being A Wallflower, is because Emma Watson starred in the movie adaptation of the book. It is also true that the fragrance of its pages hasn’t faded from my fingers. It is still a very easy book to fall in love with.

It surely is one of those books that might have a very new meaning the next time you read it. Add on to it the fact that Charlie is very real – loves to read and every new read is a favourite, listens to records of lesser known bands and artists, finding his own identity- the book can be called a cult, creating a class of its own.

The Perks of being a Wallflower, is about a fifteen year old boy named Charlie, who feels left out and in high school, and why not! His friend shot himself the previous year and nobody knows why, his favourite person in the world dies trying to buy a present for him, one for Christmas, and one for Christmas eve-his birthday. His sister is in an abusive relationship, his parents had abusive and struggling parents, the girl he thinks he loves is not only his best friend, but also has asked him to stop thinking of him that way. His other best friend is forced to be in a closet relationship, for the fear of his boyfriend’s parents. He’s also trying to ‘participate’, but feels all weird and bad memories, which he doesn’t remember, haunt him.

But then again, his advanced English teacher Bill gives him books to read and review for himself and gives him secret grades, which do keep improving (on the report card, he always got straight A’s). His brother plays football at UPenn, which has put up a very good team, and he might get to play pro. His parents and understanding and take care of him well enough. His friends also love him and care for him.

The characters in this book make mistakes, stand up to it and are real. They fall in love and out of love. The form of the entire novel is epistolary, and is written to an unknown friend and the spatial setting is unknown. The entire thing makes it universal and immensely relatable.

Of high-school, holidays and friendships; of family, grandparents, cookies and candies; of sex, drugs, alcohol and smoking; of music, literature, football and movies; of proms, homecomings and parties; of driving around town in the night-lights, through tunnels, listening to music; of depression and endless laughter; of abusive relationships and love-the book talks of coming-of-age and adolescent feelings, which is why I rate it 7.8/10. (I don’t really like the style, however true it stays to Charlie’s character.)

(A Review to The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.)