Creating Collaborative Communities

As Aristotle defines happiness, our collective well-being depends on 10 essential components. From health, good luck, and harmless pleasure, to the notions of character excellence, real achievement and being surrounded by a caring community, all of the components represent ideas that are not only good in them, but also good for the consequences which they have on others, or which they will have on an individual in the future. These include the idea, that being healthy today, by getting enough hours of sleep for example, will ultimately have healthy consequences, such as improved brain function, and better skin (to mention just a few.) Thus, the general idea behind Aristotle’s recipe for happiness becomes an undeniable truth. Nevertheless, examining the community of Annawadi, it becomes striking just how unstable the presence of these components are among the residents, and how the residents attempt to construct for themselves the notion of happiness without factoring in the necessity for a healthy coexistence or the potential for true friendship.

As westerners, we like to imagine that what countries such as India lack in material wealth per capita, they make up for in love for their neighbors and sense of community. Even if we know for a fact that this is not an absolute truth, it becomes an idea so engrained in our mind that it offers us a sense of relief. The one aspect in which the lives of people in poverty in India become “superior” to our own lives provides a balance to the injustice of life, and a victory between cultures that we are willing to grant the other party. For an individual such as myself, ridiculous, and one hundred percent self-serving in my beliefs, books such as Katherine Boo's become all the more valuable in showing us one more piece of truth to expand our notion of a single story.

To me, this new realization came, as aforementioned, as I read about the way in which members of the Annawadi community treat one another. To name just one example: the relationship dynamic between Asha and Mr. Kamble. At first, the two families are close, even friendly with each other, until a stroke of bad luck hits the family of Mr. Kamble and makes him unfit for work. Simultaneously, Asha finally experiences her big break, finally becoming the slumlord of Annawadi, and experiences a sudden influx of money. The following events sadden me. Mr. Kamble then proceeds to ask Asha for a loan, so that he can receive his necessary surgery. Asha refuses, over and over again, simply of the grounds of pride and reputation, completely disregarding of the former friendship between the two families. Unable to amass the money out of his own accord, Mr. Kamble passes away a few months later, leaving his family to fend for itself and sending them straight back into the lowest fold of poverty. The sheer unwillingness to help a so called “friend” that Asha displayed in this scenario was striking, and quite frankly appalling, especially considering what an easy fix Mr. Kamble’s condition would have been in the western world. To add to that the community’s unwillingness to help Mr. Kamble’s family out of jealousy becomes a manifestation of the moral dilemma that Annawadi experiences.

Although the unwillingness to come to another’s help is devastating without a doubt, the book also provides us with examples of positive collaboration, a silver lining in the reality of life in the slums. The most striking example would be Manju's school for the local children. Although encouraged to do so by her mother, Asha, who has the ulterior motive of collecting government funds for the school project, Manju ultimately ends up contributing to the greater good of the community. Even if the educational gap she closes is not big, and comes nowhere near the level of education Manju herself has received, by helping just two of the kids in her school attain a better future, I would dare to say that her school has proven itself to be a success.

Following just one of the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi's Swaraj, it is the ability to change the mindset of people that becomes one true proponent for positive change. Fostering the idea of social responsibility at the grassroots level, as well as community engagement among the locals- without outside intervention in the affairs of the community- becomes the strongest and clearest means of creating a lasting impact. It is with the knowledge that corruption exists at the most basic level of existence, but that the opposite is also true- compassion and character excellence also exists at the grassroots level- that hope for the betterment of society remains. I shall conclude my first blog post with two quotes from Gandhi that I believe very much sum up my two main ideas in regards to community in Annawadi. My ideas being that the current fight for happiness at the expense of others is not a solution; the second is that there is still love and compassion in a community full of betrayal., As Mahatma Gandhi so aptly says; "An eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind," but "Where there is love, there is life." And where there is life- I’d like to believe- there is hope.