Monday, February 25, 2013

Review: 'Behind the Beautiful Forevers': Beautiful read!

Behind the Beautiful Forevers
by Katherine Boo
Random House
(only) 250 odd pages long!

I recently read 'Behind the Beautiful Forevers' by Katherine Boo set in a Mumbai slum. Seeing it on the NYT list and piqued by the fact that it was written by a non-Indian, I picked it up a couple of weeks ago. Moreover, I have visited Dharavi a couple of times, and who hasn't watched 'Nayakan' (Kamal Hassan's finest performance till date) set in Dharavi. And this book is set in a slum too. I wanted to read it to see if it was true to life or just a Bollywoodesque, India-shining-for-the-Western-world book. 

The book is set in Annawadi, slum near the International airport in Mumbai. The walls of the international airport, during and after construction, were painted with a corporate slogan of a tiles company "Beautiful Forever Beautiful Forever Beautiful Forever". For those of you who live or have visited Mumbai, you'd know that every locality, be it the posh Colaba or the trendy Bandra, would have a striking mix of really really rich buildings with a slum hugging its compound walls providing the array of domestic staff services to keep the rich comfortable. When you land in Mumbai, you can't help noticing the expanse of slums around the airport. Annawadi is one such slum, and the book traces the lives of a few slum-dwellers there - Abdul, a trash dealer (and his family), Sunil, a rag picker, Manju, a college going girl (her family and friends) and Fatima, a lame woman (and her family). 

Abdul, his father and sister are accused of provoking and causing the death of Fatima, who immolates herself. Asha, Manju's mother,  a wannabe corporator and wheeler-dealer who tries to make enough money to escape the slum into a dream 'first-class' existence, tries to make money off this sordid case using her capricious police and political contacts. Abdul is imprisoned and tries to keep his calm. His life has been altered forever. Meanwhile, Manju realizes that her ambitious mother has been prostituting herself to earn money to fuel her dreams. About the same time, her friend Meena, being forced to return to her village and marry a man of her parents' choice, kills herself, as she feels that the busy but abject life of the Mumbai slum is better than an unknown future in a village. 

Their hopes and fears and changing ambitions juxtaposed on global recessionary fears, communal tensions and political ambitions is captured and nuanced brilliantly. For example, the demarcation of trash in various areas around the slum.How the same things affect the rich and the poor so differently, and how one's worries change overnight is expressed almost lyrically. For example, Abdul, from worrying about how to build a trash sorting room in Saki-Naka to worrying about when he'd get out of prison, what he'd eat and where his family would live.

Clearly, Boo has done EXTENSIVE research. I have to mention here that 'despite' being a Westerner, she has immersed herself into the mindset of the slum dwellers in particular  and India at large. Her writing is sincere, to-the-point and crystal clear in narration. Most importantly, the characters are real. You can identify with them. Breathe their dreams, understand their fears and worry about their future. What's wonderful is that she hasn't glorified poverty (and Thank God for that!) nor vilified corruption (you KNOW we have to live with it in India, the land of 'jugaad'). For example, not becoming preachy about Sister Paulette for using western (and Indian) philanthropic donations for her own growth and not providing services that she receives grants for. The distinction between the haves and have-nots is not thrust in your face nor is anyone blamed. 

The book leaves you with a bitter-sweet feeling at the end, hopeful for the future, yet disgusted by the reality of today and helpless in the context of the larger picture. A lovely read. I totally recommend it. 

ps:  The line that fired my imagination and captures the essence of the book perfectly. "It interested him that from behind Airport Road, only the smoke plumes of Annawadi's cooking fires could now be seen". The reality of Bombay!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Lost in the Black Hole

All my pics from 2005 - 2007. All gone. Just gone forever.

My marriage pics. My pretty saris, my traditional avtar. Of blushing and smiling shyly. Of a surreptitious hand-hold. Of my lovely anklets sitting on the oonjal. 

All gone. 

My honeymoon pics.Of an overrated houseboat. Of holding hands on the Dal Lake. Of my first flower bouquet from the 'husband' at midnight on the Nagina lake. Of giggling in front of the 'Hum tum ek kamre mein band ho' cabin in Gulmarg. Of walking in a skirt and transparent poncho, in front of Hazratbal (and being fully out of place). Of a fantastic meal with the yummiest nadru yakhni at the InterCon Srinagar. Of smiling at the Himalayas. And hugging before leaving for the airport.

All gone. 

My entire US stay pics. Especially the one with cherry blossoms and the fall colors and on Route 1 and in Boston and RI and NH and the Grand Canyon. Of our lovely semi-detached townhome. Of my attempts at cooking in the kitchen. Of our first snowfall together. Of our faithful Volvo. Of the touristy NY and Niagara pics. Of our Bird-in-the-hole trip to Amish County, PA. Of the 'kisses' lamps in Hershey Town. Of the quaint ice-cream shops (esp 'The Bent Spoon' at Princeton town). Of our first Hindi movie at New Brunswick.

All gone. 

Pics on my initial years at Bombay. My first Khala Ghoda. My first eunach friend. My first ram-phal experience. My 'Tendulkar' water bottle at Tendulkars. My first train journey from Dadar to Churchgate.My first German class. My first (and only) driving attempt of a toota-phoota Cielo. My first Bombay rains and its magic. My first 'Naturals' icecream. My first visit to Haji-Ali. My first rose bouquet on V Day from the husband.

All gone. 

All gone.

Now to hope some tech wizard does some magic with the hard disk and gets it back. Until then, memories, don't fade away. Grey cells, stay. Age, don't take away the lovely moments.

ps: Yes. Condolences and Sympathies would be welcome. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Valentine: Then and Now

This year at the lovely age of 33, Valentine's Day was spent apart... and it did not even matter... much! I was thinking about what really V day means to me.. when I was in college, it was spent mooning over the lack of a suitable boyfriend. And later, before I got married, it whirled by in a blur of dates and gifts, all meaningless, all in gaiety. And then post marriage, the first couple of years saw us 'dating' .. gifts, flowers, wine, dinner... the works. Then it saw us sitting down for a pleasurable leisurely dinner and after 2 kids and 8 years together.. it is just another day. A day that reminds us that we are growing older 'together' and in love (still, luckily!).

V-day doesn't matter any more. The days of fireworks, guts and glory are gone past. Now it is the steady hand of love, of friendship and of support that counts more. Especially while dealing with multiple practical realities like 2 growing children, ailing parents, EMIs, professional commitments and health goals. Does this mean there is no time for romance? Does it mean I don't need any affirmation of love? Of course not. On the contrary, I can't wait for a whole year for displays of love. I need it regularly. Everyday! Snatched moments. Goodbye kisses. Many hugs. Whispered 'I love you's. Romantic SMSes. These are daily occurrences. I revel in them every day and I pray they last a lifetime.

This year, the poet in my husband sent me a lovey-dovey romantic poem that put a smile on my face when I woke up. And then I wondered if my son and daughter would go through the cycle of V Day in a couple of decades (or maybe more, hopefully!) too!

Here's to love and romance all your life. 

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Liebster Award: Delight

Zoe's Mom made my day. I was feeling upset that my usually well planned day is now at the mercy of my 3 month old and thus leading to infrequent blog posts, when I saw I was awarded the 'Liebster' :) Feeling grand! 
Awarded for 'promising' talent

Liebster is a German word which means kindest, dearest, beloved, cute, endearing... This award is given to new or promising bloggers who have less than 200 followers.  it is then passed along to other bloggers in the same category.

·         Tell 11 Random facts about yourself
·         Answer the questions the nominator has asked in their post
·         Create 11 new questions for the bloggers you nominate
·         Nominate 11 bloggers whose blogs you read frequently and who have less than 200 followers.
·         Inform the nominee by commenting on one of their posts.
·         No tag back

Random facts about me! (And I had GREAT fun thinking them out and listing 'em!) 
1.     I can’t stand creepy-crawlies. Starting with cockroaches down to snails, snakes and earthworms. But lizards and spiders don’t scare me!
2.    I love eating vegetables, but strangely fruits are not high up on the list. Raw veggies – NO NO, but cooked? Bring it on!
3.    I LOVE traveling. Although my daughter is only 3 months old, I am already planning my next trip.
4.    My most fave physical feature in a person is dimples. I naturally gravitate towards dimpled smiles. No wonder I married my husband (who has 2 lovely dimples).
5.    My idea of a lovely midnight snack is a great glass of wine, cheese crackers and red velvet cupcakes.
6.    My all time fave book is ‘Gone With the Wind’ which I read during my class XII Board exams (which explains my Maths marks or lack thereof). I identify most strongly with Scarlett as a character. Jostling closely for number 2 spot is ‘Godfather’ and ‘JLS’.
7.    I enjoy dancing. One dream is to dance the salsa with the husband in a nightclub wearing a lovely dress that swirls around my knees and plunges down my back. (oops, too graphic?)
8.    Arvindswamy is my all-time fave hero. Followed by DiCaprio and Daniel Craig.
9.    As a child, I used to think that you can make coffee decoction only in the morning. If you tried making it in the afternoon, it will not turn out right (Tam conditioning?)
10.  I am generally a non-confrontational type and will go to many lengths to avoid any argument/fight of any sort at personal risk and pain!
11.  I always make lists, for everything. Especially though when I am traveling. Individual packing lists for each person, even detailing the toiletries and books to be carried.

Zoe’s mamma’s questions for me:
1.             If you can get to live a famous person's life for one day, who would it be and why?
I’d like to be an astronaut, Sunita Williams maybe? Just to see the moon up close and play obstacle race amidst the stars, dodging stray meteorites!

2.            What has the best blog post you have written (per you) and why do you think so?
My travel series on Ladakh. It was a fantastic trip and I enjoyed blogging about it almost as much as traveling.

3.            What is the worst blogging mistake you have done and why do you think so? 
Not trying hard enough. Especially with driving feeds and RSS and all the other jargon that I still don’t have time enough to figure out. Also, not working hard enough on the look or visiting other blogs often enough. (Hopefully will work on some mistakes this year!)

4.            1 book/movie character you would love to become for your life?
I already said it… Scarlett O’Hara. Movie character?  Maria in ‘Sound of Music’.

5.            If you get to do just 1 thing for yourself in 2013 what would you do?
Visit Iran.

6.            What’s the one food you’d wish to eat all the time and never get bored of? do not think about calories
No brainer – its Chocolate! But there  are cavities to think of, even if I ditch the calories!

7.            When you were younger what did you want to become? What are your views about that profession now. 
I wanted to become a teacher as a child, and then do hotel management. Ended up doing an MBA, but then re-calibrating my career choices now. I still believe that teaching is a fantastic vocation and a great career choice, if you are okay about the money that is.

8.            What was your favorite fairy-tale as a kid? Why? Do you still like it as much?
Hansel and Gretel. I loved the brother-sister bonding and the victory of courage over evil. Yes, I still LOVE it.

9.            What is the strangest thing about you?
My deep voice. Sometimes its mistaken for a high-pitched man’s and phone conversations become hilarious!

10.          What is your funniest childhood memory?
It wasn't so funny then; my sis was missing from her class in 1st standard and I was given hell for her absence. After much searching all over the school and school grounds, she was found sleeping, in her slip, in a teacher’s empty staff room. Why? She was sleepy and it was hot. Sigh!

11.          One person who has influenced you as a blogger.
Of late, Gauri. Her blog is well written, covers an eclectic range of topics and written in a sensible, yet witty tone. (Giving her the award too!)

I nominate –

  1.       Gauri Venkitaraman
  2.       Monika Manchanda
  3.       Aparna Sanjay
  4.      Trishna Pillai
  5.      Pushpa Moorjani
  6.      Uma Chellappa
  7.       Smita Bhattacharya
  8.       Arthi Anand
  9.        Sirisha Achanta
  10.       Simran Dhaliwal
  11.       Dipali Taneja

Now for my 11 questions
  1.     What is your fave song? Why? (You can choose to link the YouTube video of it if you love it lots).
  2.     Why did you start your blog? Is it still fulfilling the original purpose?
  3.     Have you moved to real life friendships with anyone from the blog world?
  4.     What is your greatest achievement in your life?
  5.     And your greatest regret? Could you have changed it?
  6.     Which is your fave sitcom? And your fave movie?
  7.     What’s your most fave place to visit? (Even the ones on your wish list) And why?
  8.     If you were invisible for a day, what would you like to do?
  9.     Who is your role model? And why?
  10.    One thing you cannot live without.
  11.    What’s your fave day-dream?

 Have fun! I love you girls and can't wait to read your entries.