Love Thy Neighbor

The dynamic of community in Annawadi is one of those examples where the phrase, “love thy neighbor,” becomes overruled by jealousy, distrust, and hatred; it is a phrase that loses its meaning in the desperate struggle to rise out of poverty and scramble over the hierarchical system in the slum community. “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” by Katherine Boo captures a sense of the “tug-of-war” emotions between the neighbors in the Mumbai slum. Although, as depicted in the book, Annawadi shares little to no sense of camaraderie and communal affection, there is an almost subconscious bond between the members of the community over a single, shared dream: to get out of Annawadi. Although the shared longing to escape from the clutches of poverty reluctantly brings the community members together, it also creates a constant sense of competition. Abdul’s family, for example, prospers financially with their garbage business much to the dismay and jealousy of the other members of Annawadi. As Abdul’s family gains a steady income from their business, they are able to create a better living space for themselves with shelves, new pots and pans, a television, etc—things their neighbors lack but eye with envy and anger.

One important point to take note of while assessing the community’s lack of neighborly affection is the proximity of housing. Homes are placed right next to each other, some even sharing a common wall, and as the slum basically shares everything with each other: water, family arguments, bathrooms, and secrets, families that own more items or live better than their neighbors, but do not share with the community, somehow seem haughty and enviable.

In one chapter of the book, as the Husains repair their home with new tiles, shelves and a window, Abdul is doubtful about the renovation and worries about his neighbors’ thoughts. As one of the only Muslim families in Annawadi, the Husains are often looked down upon in the community, and the family’s prosperity is doubly envied. As Abdul states, “it was like standing on the roof bragging that a Muslim family was out-earning the Hindus. Why throw ghee on an open flame?” (86, Boo).

Although the families in Annawadi earn and own little, signs of one family’s improvements are envied by all, for a step toward better living is a step away from suffering and poverty. Perhaps, as it is human nature, we find comfort when we know that we are not alone. So, although all members of the Annawadi community hope and dream of a future out of the slum, the hardships of living are justified by others who live lives as difficult or more difficult than their own.