Katherine Boo

Behind the Beautiful Forevers

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Behind the Beautiful Forevers Themes, Motifs, Symbols

Beautiful Forevers

The wall that separates Mumbai’s international airport from the Annawadi slum is plastered with an advertisement for an Italian tile company claiming to be beautiful forever. The wall physically separates a modern, affluent space and a primitive, poverty-level area, and also serves as a symbolic distinction between the two places. The airport and surrounding hotels represent everything that Annawadians hope to achieve, and everything that is also out of their reach. The prosperity of modernizing Mumbai stands in stark contrast to the thirty-four slums (of which Annawadi is only one) surrounding the airport, all filled with people striving to make a living off the waste and cast-offs of the prosperous class.

The brick wall

The brick wall that separates the Husains’ living quarters from Fatima’s is a symbol of the level of prosperity the Husains have achieved. It is a physical measure of Abdul’s hard work; before the brick wall, the eleven Husains were separated from Fatima’s family and her string of lovers by only a sheet. The brick wall provides status for the Husains, especially since other Annawadians notice the improvements to the Husains’ hut. Yet it is also a source of resentment for Fatima; the improvements made to the Husains’ hut are a reminder of the problems with her own life.

Ultimately, everyone in Annawadi is striving for brick walls – four of them, plus a floor not made of dirt and a roof not made of tin. The master plan for Mumbai includes the demolition of its surrounding slums, but only a lucky few who can prove their residency and status will earn one of the tiny apartments provided for relocation. By Annawadi standards, a 269-square-foot apartment for a family of eleven is a form of luxury the Husains have never known and can only hope to achieve.

Two Mumbais – the overcity and the undercity.

Throughout the book, there are two Mumbais: one that is affluent and prosperous, moving at headlong speed into modernization, and one that is poverty-stricken, where the best options include thievery or suicide. The two Mumbais bump up against each other often in Behind the…

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