Excerpt from Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

by Katherine Boo

Behind the Beautiful Forevers
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2012, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2014, 288 pages

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Mirchi was impatiently awaiting his best friend, Rahul, a Hindu boy who lived a few huts away, and who had become an Annawadi celebrity. This month, Rahul had done what Mirchi dreamed of: broken the barrier between the slum world and the rich world.

Rahul's mother, Asha, a kindergarten teacher with mysterious connections to local politicians and the police, had managed to secure him several nights of temp work at the Intercontinental Hotel, across the sewage lake. Rahul-a pie-faced, snaggle-toothed ninth grader-had seen the overcity opulence firsthand.

And here he came, wearing an ensemble purchased from the profits of this stroke of fortune: cargo shorts that rode low on his hips, a shiny oval belt buckle of promising recyclable weight, a black knit cap pulled down to his eyes. "Hip-hop style," Rahul termed it. The previous day had been the sixtieth anniversary of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, a national holiday on which elite Indians once considered it poor taste to throw an extravagant party. But Rahul had worked a manic event at the Intercontinental, and knew Mirchi would appreciate the details.

"Mirchi, I cannot lie to you," Rahul said, grinning. "On my side of the hall there were five hundred women in only half-clothes-like they forgot to put on the bottom half before they left the house!"

"Aaagh, where was I?" said Mirchi. "Tell me. Anyone famous?"

"Everyone famous! A Bollywood party. Some of the stars were in the VIP area, behind a rope, but John Abraham came out to near where I was. He had this thick black coat, and he was smoking cigarettes right in front of me. And Bipasha Basu was supposedly there, but I couldn't be sure it was really her or just some other item girl, because if the manager sees you looking at the guests, he'll fire you, take your whole pay-they told us that twenty times before the party started, like we were weak in the head. You have to focus on the tables and the rug. Then when you see a dirty plate or a napkin you have to snatch it and take it to the trash bin in the back. Oh, that room was looking nice. First we laid this thick white carpet-you stood on it and sank right down. Then they lit white candles and made it dark like a disco, and on this one table the chef put two huge dolphins made out of flavored ice. One dolphin had cherries for eyes - "

"Bastard, forget the fish, tell me about the girls," Mirchi protested. "They want you to look when they dress like that."

"Seriously, you can't look. Not even at the rich people's toilets. Security will chuck you out. The toilets for the workers were nice, though. You have a choice between Indian- or American-style." Rahul, who had a patriotic streak, had peed in the Indian one, an open drain in the floor.

Other boys joined Rahul outside the Husains' hut. Annawadians liked to talk about the hotels and the depraved things that likely went on inside. One drug-addled scavenger talked to the hotels: "I know you're trying to kill me, you sisterfucking Hyatt!" But Rahul's accounts had special value, since he didn't lie, or at least not more than one sentence out of twenty. This, along with a cheerful disposition, made him a boy whose privileges other boys did not resent.

Rahul gamely conceded he was a nothing compared with the Intercontinental's regular workers. Many of the waiters were college-educated, tall, and light-skinned, with cellphones so shiny their owners could fix their hair in the reflections. Some of the waiters had mocked Rahul's long, blue-painted thumbnail, which was high masculine style at Annawadi. When he cut the nail off, they'd teased him about how he talked. The Annawadians' deferential term for a rich man, sa'ab, was not the proper term in the city's moneyed quarters, he reported to his friends. "The waiters say it makes you sound D- class-like a thug, a tapori," he said. "The right word is sir."

"Sirrrrrrr," someone said, rolling the r's, then everyone started saying it, laughing.

Excerpted from Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. Copyright © 2012 by Katherine Boo. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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