Tag Archives: Slums

Book Review: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid Title: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia
Author: Mohsin Hamid
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin India
ISBN: 9780670086375
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Mohsin Hamid’s books are biting and raw in their nature of storytelling. Nothing is rosy and that his readers are aware of. Nothing is sugar-coated. He tells it the way it is and maybe that is why his readers like reading what he has to write. Hamid writes about the society, the way he sees it. Whether it is a story of a young man in love in his first book to a fundamentalist born out of probably no choice in his second to his latest offering, “How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia”, which is as raw and vicious as the other two.

The book is unusual in its writing and plot. It is a satire on the society told fictionally, through a self-help book format, with twelve rules in place on how to get filthy rich in rising Asia. It is the story of a young boy (unnamed but of course), born into a poor family. As he moves on from the village to a slum in the unnamed big city, his hopes and aspirations rise. He wants to be the very best. He wants to be rich and nothing else beyond that. As he rises through the success ladder, and sets up a bottled water factory, he realizes that everything but of course comes for a price. At the end of it all, there is one thing that remains constant in his life: His teenage love – he can never forget and yearns for all the time and all those years. The book is all about his life and the people in his life and the consequences of wanting to get “filthy rich” in rising Asia.

That in short is the plot of the book. The writing being sarcastic is highly humorous and at the same time leaves you with a sense of sadness as you turn the pages. Mohsin Hamid’s writing is strong and packed with punches and surprises in almost every chapter. The reality of the situation is seen and at the same time, it tends to get boring at a couple of places, given the repetitive start to every chapter, which is that of a self-help book.

“How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia” is a short book and yet touches on the complexities of living and surviving in big cities. It portrays the paradoxes that lie in “Rising Asia” and its impact on the so-called “class” system that exists. Like I said, Hamid does not shy away from saying and seeing things the way they are. The book is highly entertaining and also thought-provoking to a very large extent. A perfect read for a Sunday afternoon.

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Book Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Title: Behind the Beautiful Forevers
Author: Katherine Boo
Publisher: Penguin Books India
Imprint: Hamish Hamilton
ISBN: 9780670086092
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 280
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

When I first started reading, “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” by Katherine Boo, it didn’t strike me as a different book. I mean I had read the similar story in Suketu Mehta’s, “Maximum City” (Honestly I didn’t think much of it), though it was in brief. It was still more or less the same – Mumbai and its dichotomy (like every major cosmopolitan), its slums, its smells and sights and the hidden side to the city, which we ignore or pretend doesn’t exist most of the time. Then what made this book so different that I finished in almost a day?

The difference lies in the way Katherine Boo has written the book – from providing a perspective on the what, the why and the how to experiences that will sometimes warm the heart and sometimes break it, knowing that this is the condition of a city that never sleeps. Having said that, there were also gaps in the book – the way it jumped from one story to another and how that was written almost in a haste which at times provided some disconnect with the overall structure.

The book, “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” is essentially about “Annawadi” – a slum in Mumbai next to the International airport and close to the luxury hotels there (again another facet of the caste and class division). The Annawadians are full of hope as the Indian Economy rises without any realization that nothing is going to change for them. The parity will exist if not widen itself. The under-city and over-city are explicitly portrayed in the book and that makes the reader think: Is this my city? Or could this be any booming cosmopolitan in the nation? The story (I call it that because it reads like one at times) is essentially about these people and their lives – some more and some less.

Abdul, a teenager sees a future beyond counting the recyclable garbage that the city’s rich throw away. He is quick at sorting waste. He is almost there in fulfilling his family’s dreams of moving out of the slum. Asha, a woman of the world and witty at the same time, opts for a different way out of this misery: political corruption. She wants her daughter to become the first female graduate of the slum and will not stop to make that dream come true. And just when all seems to fall in place, there is global recession and Abdul is falsely accused of a terrorist attack and the dream-world they are hoping has crashed to pieces.

Boo’s writing is stark and in your face. There is no pretense and cannot be when one is writing life-stories. The people in the book may seem stereotypical but they aren’t. Each of them is as different as you and I and with their own story to tell, which Boo captures beautifully. There are times when she appears disjointed in the book and fragmented, however in the larger scheme of the plot and writing, the reader tends to easily overlook that.

“Behind the Beautiful Forevers” is a depiction of our times and where we live. It represents the societies we create and how we take advantage of those to fulfill our selfish ends. The book removes masks that we sometimes wear and compels readers to take a better look at their worlds and surroundings. A disturbing read at times, however quite stark and impactful in its essence.

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