Imagine feeling thankful for being given the chance to sort through garbage to make a little bit of cash, being thankful to a corrupt government and the rich who give you land they use as a garbage dump while they make millions of dollars with hotels and airports.
That’s something in a place like Australia we can’t imagine being thankful for, because Australia has been a lucky country. For some countries, parts of their population are living an existence that we’d find hopeless, living an existence we wouldn’t even consider being thankful for. But in Annawadi, next to Mumbai airport, India, the chance to sort through garbage is where the inhabitants of the slum find hope.
Katherine Boo is a staff writer at The New Yorker who has been writing about the poor and disadvantaged people in America. Boo has written pieces that show understanding and empathy to people who are often stigmatised in a society that values a strong work ethic and lifestyle. She has seen a change in the possibilities and chances of the poor in the US, and despite what the media may say there aren’t as many rags to riches stories as it seems there are. This isn’t just for the US though, as India is seeing the gap between its richest and poorest spread apart further and further.
Boo’s book is called Behind the Beautiful Forevers, and tells the story of three families from Annawadi. The stories are real, and come from the lives and experiences of these families. One story is about Abdul and his family. Abdul was known to others as stupid, and his appearance was often dirty.
As the saying goes, never judge a book by the cover, and Abdul is someone whose rough appearance hid a diamond. Despite the setbacks of being in a slum and supporting his family of 11, Abdul was able to make enough money for his family to purchase their own land. To make the money, Abdul used the skills his father taught him. The skills of sorting through garbage, which he learned so well the muscles in his hands grew to be able to work quicker, and his ability to smell and sense different plastics set him apart from others in the slum.
Abdul’s philosophy is that luck is the train that doesn’t hit you. In short, that means that the good that happens to you in life can be found in the bad fortune that doesn’t come your way. This philosophy is something that can help in situation that others may perceive as hopeless.
Boo, in her book, puts a human quality to this life that many of us in Australia and the west can’t imagine. The government in India is so corrupt that some parents find the qualities of kindness, tenderness and compassion as not something that a successful person has. But, in a slum like Annawadi, kindness, tenderness and understanding may be what changes the situation.
Aaron Monopoli is a media student at Southern Cross University.