Wow. Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a non-fiction by Katherine Boo. And you need to read it. Don't be intimidated that because it is non-fiction it will be difficult to wade through, it reads like a novel and has a good pace to it.
It is essentially the story of a slum in Mumbai and a closer look at a few residents and their attempts to improve their lives. And it reminded me of so many other stories that it really proved that people are essentially the same all over the world.
Mostly I would say that the book shows the many different layers of society and its divisions in India. There are religious divides, caste system levels, and financial classes. People don't unify, instead they find reasons to separate, and this makes it much easier to take advantage of other people. Even in the slums there are the families that are better off and therefore a source of envy to the people with less. Who would think that a simple kitchen shelf would be a source of contention?
Is this so different than the people that you interact with daily? We all have the labels that we assign to others, and sometimes ourselves. Right vs Left, Religious vs Agnostic, Straight vs Gay (etc.), gym rats, couch potatoes, these are all labels that separate and they all bring to mind a specific type of person. But how many of us truly fit into a single box?
Don't even get me started on the corruption! The haves are constantly taking advantage of the have nots. The politicians lie, the police can be bought, and the system is full of people that are experts at beating the system. It's not an India problem, this is a global problem. The money that people donate to the needy rarely ends up in the intended hands. It's enough to make me sick, is it any wonder that so many people feel like charity is a waste of money?
Here's just a couple items that I was struck by, and I will be vague to try and avoid spoilers. Isn't it interesting that even after the schism Abdul's family aided their neighbors? How about the books that students were described to be studying? Now I clearly love a good book - but aren't there more useful things for them to work on than memorizing a synopsis of a classic book? And finally, just think if all of these people behaved honorably and truly put the money and effort, into the systems that they are intended for - how much would that impact be?
This book was really wonderful, and I would definitely read it again - and recommend it to others.