Struggles of Mumbai's Slum Dwellers in Behind the Beautiful Forevers

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In the book “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” Katherine Boo brings her audience to a front row seat of the life many slum dwellers suffer from in the Indian city of Mumbai. She is able to represent the theme of the amount of struggle it can be to keep hope while being stuck in poverty. Katherine Boo is able to depict this theme to her audience through many tragic life events that many would take for granted not having to suffer from.

These events include police beatings with no justice, political bribery, unsanitary hospital care, and many others. One of the most impressive things about Katherine Boo’s book is the first person journalist account she delivers to her audience. This allows for a non-filtered, pure take on what is happening in India today.

Katherine Boo’s “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” is a nonfiction first person account of the lives of a few slum dwellers that live in what is called the Annawadi Slum of the Indian city Mumbai.

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Boo focuses her work on the lives of the Husain Family who are Muslim. The Husain’s are a family of 11, The father is sick with Tuberculosis and the eldest son Abdul collects trash that can be recycled for money. The family begins saving money in an effort to buy land outside of the slum but disaster strikes when a neighbor lies of being beaten and set on fire by the family.

The father Karam is arrested along with his eldest daughter Kehkashan, and his son Abdul.

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The neighbor of the Husain’s dies in the unsanitary hospital of infection and they are blamed for her death. By the end of the book the Husain’s are found not guilty though Abdul’s trial is still left open being stalled. The Husain’s suffer many hardships as they wait for their verdict that will decide their future. Boo also focuses on a local teacher who prospers to become a politician.

Asha is the mother of Manju who is supposed to be the first female graduate of Annawadi. Asha controls power in the slum through different money maneuvering tricks she has learned. Asha ultimately gives up on her dreams of politics when she is presented a money making fraud in the form of the Depart of Education.

Boo is able to develop her theme of the struggle with keeping hope while being stuck in poverty through her examples of the hardships the slum dwellers endure. These include Suicides, Police Beatings, Political corruption through bribery, Garbage Collecting as a main source of income, and the struggle to have children graduate college for a better future. One of the main examples of Boos development of this theme is when she shows her audience the way suicide is viewed by some as better than living another day in the slum. Meena who is Manju’s good friend in the slum has just ingested rat poison for the third time in an effort to commit suicide, she was tired of not having a say in her life as well as the struggle of the slum “This was one decision about her life she got to make” (145) and it would relieve her pain so she thought. Meena went on to vomit the rat poison but suffered beatings from her brother and died a few days later.

Another key example of how Boo develops her theme is when she describes how Asha talks about her daughter Manju. Asha is describing when journalists visit the city to see how women are being empowered and she shares “my girl will be a college graduate, not dependent on any man.’” (35) This is a real depiction of how Asha feels since her husband is a drunk that she feels is useless to society. Katherine Boo is able to greatly develop her theme through the immense imagery she uses throughout her book.

The development of Boo’s theme of the struggle of keeping hope while being stuck in poverty is amplified with her abilities to deliver great mental pictures of life in the slum. Boo is describing Zehrunisa while at the police station as “Hearing her Eldest son screaming as he got beaten at the police station. Seeing her gentle daughter escorted by officers into jail-a moment in which the single word in Zehrunisa head was qayamat, the end of the world.”(99) Any parentwould ultimately be infuriated and scared that it was the end of the world if two of their children were being beaten and jailed for a crime they did not commit. Katherine Boo continues this imagery throughout the book to show her audience the struggle of the slum.

Throughout her book Katherine Boo uses a journalist style first person approach to her development of the story. Boo rights as a she is watching the drama unfold but also puts her own style on it to allow the audience to get the raw image of what’s really happening. Boo writes in a no holds and delivers an exciting, stomach upsetting epic of the trials that are struggled with in the slums of India.

The effort Katherine Boo gives in an attempt to deliver a glimpse in the life of many Indians is clearly seen throughout her development of the story through her effectiveness to show what is truly happening. This is clearly seen when the audience is being exposed to the amount of political bribery that takes place throughout Mumbai. A key example of this bribery is when Zehrunisa is trying to battle off police from creating a new charge against the Husain’s “The officers hinted that a new charge might be used to show the judge that the family had a pattern of criminality. So Zehrunisa paid bribe after bribe” (164) To many Americans bribing police is un heard of especially in petty crimes such as the one the Husain’s are being accused of. Boo specifically shows her audience this to show the amount of corruption that takes place throughout the slums and how many slum dwellers are taken advantage of even though they have near nothing. By Boo doing this she effectively displays her theme of the struggle with keeping hope while being stuck in poverty.

Katherine Boo is able to effectively show her audience the hardships of life many suffer while being stuck in the slums of India. She is able to display this to her audience through many different examples. Katherine boo effectively shows her audience the struggle with a pure raw point of view to allow the reader a great understanding of life in India.


  1. Katherine Boo. Behind the Beautiful Forevers. New York: Random House, 2012.
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Struggles of Mumbai's Slum Dwellers in Behind the Beautiful Forevers. (2022, May 04). Retrieved from

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