In the past two decades, Asia has
experience a fast-paced urbanization fueled by significant economic growth.
With rapid economic growth in Asian countries like China and India, urbanizing and
transforming at a fast rate, one can gasp how there is a clear correlation
between urbanization and economic growth in Asia. As the world transformed,
cities were formed as industrialization continued; “the twenty-first century to
be declared ‘the century of the city'”. Today, urbanized cities hold homes to
54 percent of the global population, and that figure is expected to rise.

densely populated city of Mumbai has become India’s largest city, one of Asia’s
mega urban regions that has a financial center and also is the heart of
Bollywood film industry as well. However, underneath this glorious and rapid
urbanization, one should question, what does all of this mean for the actual
lives of people living in the city of Mumbai? And this is where Katherine Boo’s
novel Behind the Beautiful Forevers
comes in handy.

is no denying that urbanization is a key asset for socio-economic
transformation, national wealth and prosperity, and also overall development.
However, with every positive change and trend, there are bound to be issues and
problems surrounding it. According to UN’s World Cities Report 2016,
“persistent urban issues over the last 20 years include urban growth, changes
in family patterns, growing number of urban residents living in slums and
informal settlements, and the challenge of providing urban services”. In my
essay, I will be analyzing few of these issues in comparison to Katherine Boo’s
novel as it will be a great way in showing the different aspects and lives of
people living in Mumbai at this urbanization era of India.

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story of Behind the Beautiful Forevers
takes place in a slum-side of Mumbai called Annawadi and chronicles the lives
of several characters from different family lines in the slum from 2007 to
2011. With rapid industrialization near the international airport, many people
from the rural area have migrated into the city of Mumbai and formed a slum
surrounding the airport. People in Annawadi is trying to elevate their lives
and eventually move out of the slum. With this rapid urban growth based on
capitalism, I noticed some very different family dynamics forming in the
stories of Annawadi slum. India is traditionally deeply rooted as a patriarchal
society where women are known to have limited roles in both family and society.
However, in the lives of Annawadi slum, one can notice significant changes in
the roles of women in its rapid growing capitalistic society. In chapter two, a
female character Asha Waghekar is introduced. She is a 39-year old woman who
aspires to become the new slumlord of Annawadi, which she succeeds by working
with and bribing the local politicians and police offices to keep the slum
under her control. “In this reformation, thirty-nine-year old Asha Waghekar
perceived an opportunity… she wanted to be the woman-to-see.” (P.17) For Asha,
her hopes for prosperity comes through corruption. From a Western perspective,
corruption usually has a negative connotation attached to its meaning as it is
perceived to be a dishonest act of those in power and something that needs to
be eliminated from society. However, what is interesting to see is that, for
the people of the slums in Mumbai, corruption works as another opportunity for
success in their efforts to elevate their lives. Asha uses the art of
corruption such as being a fake kindergarten teacher and by establishing a non-existing
non-profit organization to launder money through these businesses. She uses
sexual favours with numerous number of companions and is not ashamed. By
chapter 12, “Asha was in control of Annawadi”, and “relaxing into her
authority, Asha stopped making elaborate excuses to her family about the men
she met late at night”, it was almost as if she had earned the right to behave
as she pleases with her newly found authority and success. (P.177) India, where
women are seen as a men’s commodity, Asha definitely represents changing family
dynamics through economic and capitalistic power, where if she can be a
successful breadwinner of the household, then she has a voice.  

major issue surrounding urbanization in the city of Mumbai is urban poverty: “the
widespread growth of slums or informal urban settlements” just like the Annawadi
slums of the book. Moving to the city doesn’t guarantee absolute prosperity and
success, you get a huge number of people that dwell around the city squatting
in slums where they do not have the right to the land they occupy nor have any
ownership over it. Because of their fragile state and position in the city,
people of the slums face challenges against the corrupt state and are in a desperate
need of state governance in providing them with adequate basic public services
and affordable public housing options. Some of the major but basic services a
city should be able to provide include transportation, water and sewer systems,
health, education and affordable housing options, without these services, the
slums and informal settlements will continue to grow and “the basic
productivity of all citizens will be compromised”. In Annawadi, people live in
very poor conditions; access to running water is only available for two hours a
day, people use public washrooms with their neighbours, and the sewage lake
that they live next to is prone to flooding which the main protagonist
character Abdul and his family lost everything over once. Annawadi being an
informal settlement, residents face enormous amounts of corruption as they must
make payments to police officers and slumlords in order to insure their life in
the slum. Through this vicious cycle, government funds are wasted in the wrong
hands as corruption persists; Due to corruption, Sunil was kicked out of the
orphanage, Asha takes away the money for the slum’s education into her pocket
robbing the children of their education, and even during the trial on Fatima’s
death, medical officers, police officers, and witnesses all demand payment for
their testimony and there seems to be no hope for a fair trial. At the end of
the book, Annawadi is scheduled to be taken down by the government, Abdul’s
family stay hopeful that they will quality for one of the 269-square foot
apartments seen as the best hope to the slum dwellers of Annawadi.

the book, Mumbai is divided into two; one being the overcity that is prosperous
and moving ahead into modernization, and the other being the undercity that is
poverty-stricken where options at bettering their lives are very limited. The two
Mumbai cities constantly clash with each other, however what one should
remember is that how their co-dependency and co-existence
is an inevitable part of the urbanization city of Mumbai. Both the rich and
poor rely on the same corrupt systems of law and order, and that they both
depend on each other. The slum dwellers picking the scraps of the overcity
clean and providing plentiful of labour force for the staffing at services
industries, meaning that the informal economic activities of the slums are also
a key part of what makes the city run smoothly. Without the government’s effort
in “providing adequate basic services and infrastructure”, the city will
continue to experience structural setbacks that stem from inequality between
the rich and poor. 

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