a shantytown in mumbai -- 2/10/14

In today's selection -- from Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. As the search for opportunity moves people in emerging market countries from farms into cities like Mumbai, Cairo, and Mexico City -- turning them into megacities -- millions upon millions of these new inhabitants take up residence in their squalid shantytowns. The shantytown in Annawadi, just outside of Mumbai, is typical:

"In Annawadi ... the thriving western suburbs of the Indian financial capital [of Mumbai], three thousand people had packed into, or on top of 334 huts, ... squatting on land that belonged to the Airports Authority of India. Only a coconut-tree-lined thoroughfare separated the slum from the entrance to the international terminal. ...

Flying into the Mumbai International Airport, above Annawadi.

"Every morning, thousands of waste-pickers fanned out across the airport area in search of vendible excess -- a few pounds of the eight thousand tons of garbage that Mumbai was extruding daily. These scavengers darted after crumpled cigarette packs tossed from cars with tinted windows. They dredged sewers and raided dumpsters for empty bottles of water and beer. Each evening, they returned down the slum road with gunny sacks of garbage on their backs, like a procession of broken-toothed, profit-minded Santas. ...

"Home [might be] a divider made of made of aluminum [with] a wall of reject bricks, which established [the] home as the sturdiest dwelling in the row. [Some] Neighbors' huts [were] held together by duct tape and rope ... Annawadi itself was nothing special, in the context of the slums of Mumbai. Every house was off-kilter, so less off-kilter looked like straight. Sewage and sickness looked like life. ...

"True, only six of the slum's three thousand residents had permanent jobs. (The rest, like 85 percent of Indian workers, were part of the informal, unorganized economy.) True, a few residents trapped rats and frogs and fried them for dinner. A few ate the scrub grass at the sewage lake's edge. And these individuals, miserable souls, thereby made an inestimable contribution to their neighbors. They gave those slumdwellers who didn't fry rats and eat weeds, like Abdul, a felt sense of their upward mobility. ...

"Late at night, the contractors modernizing the airport dumped things in the lake. Annawadians also dumped things there: most recently, the decomposing carcasses of twelve goats. Whatever was in that soup, the pigs and dogs that slept in its shallows emerged with bellies stained blue. Some creatures survived the lake, though, and not only the malarial mosquitoes. As the morning went on, a fisherman waded through the water, one hand pushing aside cigarette packs and blue plastic bags, the other dimpling the surface with a net. ...

"Annawadians understood that their settlement was widely perceived as a blight, and that their homes, like their work, were provisional. ... The third side of Annawadi was a cratered road at the slum's entrance where many scavengers lived. This side had no huts. Scavengers slept on top of their garbage bags to prevent other scavengers from stealing them."


author:

Katherine Boo

title:

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

publisher:

Katherine Boo

date:

Copyright 2012 by Katherine Boo

pages:

xi, xii, xvi, 4-7, 42
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