This Game of Make-Believe

Asha is a cunning, cutthroat woman, intent on bribing and manipulating her way to becoming the first female slumlord of Annawadi, the airport slum. She diverts government funds intended to benefit the people of the slum into her own pocket. People snake around her house every day, asking for her help in exchange for their loyalty, their money. When they can benefit her, she agrees. When they can’t, she leaves them--quite literally in the case of Mr. Kamble-- to die. Asha is sly, sure, but before that, she is an opportunist, and in Katherine Boo’s novel she is portrayed as nothing more than a player, “a chit” in a larger “national game of make-believe.” Boo argues that Asha is not the problem in India’s attempt at modernization and reinvention. She’s not inherently evil or exploitative, Asha is just a product of the society she was born into, a society that thrives upon continual “exploitation of the weak by the less weak.” She’s just doing the best she can, making the most out of the only world she knows.

It’s an interesting thing to think about, isn’t it? We’re all just products of society. We make the most using what we know. In a lot of ways, it makes sense. On Tuesday I stood in Paresky Commons listening to two Lowers discuss the Boston Marathon bombing behind me. They said of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the younger brother, “Someone as evil as he is should be publicly hanged.” The conversation scared me, not only because they were discussing public execution but also because of the ease with which they separated themselves from Tsarnaev. He is evil. They were not, the Lowers said.

But it’s not that simple. I think it’s important to remember that both brothers lived here, in Boston, MA. They experienced the same things many of us have—a Red Sox game or a hamburger—but they also suffered from the same society we have, in essence, created and continue to change every day with every letter, conversation, tweet or blog post we produce. I’m an idealist in that I don’t think people are innately good or bad. The bombings happened for a reason, whether it was a physical manifestation of frustration over citizenship struggles, social inequity, anti-Soviet/anti-foreigner attitudes, I don’t know. Either way, it was caused by some injustice in this system, this “national game,” per se, that we have collectively failed to ameliorate. We too are responsible for what happened at the Marathon.

In approximately a month and a half, we will fly to India. I don’t know, yet, what to expect, other than perhaps a culture shock in a world that initially seems so different from mine. But I think with such a trip we have to avoid the us-versus-them mentality that tries to convince us we are somehow completely separated from the struggles we witness.  It will be important to keep in mind that no matter how indirectly, we are also responsible for “corruption” in an Indian slum 7,000 miles away.