Thursday, 13 September 2012
Katherine Boo and the Snapshot Slum
I loved reading Katherine Boo's Beyond the Beautiful Forevers, her strangely fictionalised story of life, death, corruption and the struggle to survive in a Mumbai slum.
At the back of the book, she sums up the problem with photography. "I quickly grew impatient with poignant snapshots of Indian squalor; the ribby children with flies in their eyes and other emblems of abjectness that one can't help but see within five minutes of walking into a slum. For me... the more important line of inquiry is something that takes longer to discern."
Boo spent four years in her slum. "To me, becoming attached to a country involves pressing uncomfortable questions about justice and opportunity for its least powerful citizens... I thought it would be useful to follow the inhabitants of a single, exceptional slum over the course of several years to see who got ahead and who didn't, and why, as India prospered. There being no way around the not-being-Indian business, I tried to compensate for my limitations the same way I do in unfamiliar American territory: by time spent, attention paid, documentation secured, accounts cross-checked."
The work shows. It's not an Indian book, but the research from the "...written notes, video recordings, audiotapes, and photographs" make for a compelling book. And I think the hard work was far, far harder than Boo is letting on.
And the cover. A snapshot of course. Slumdog Millionaire snapshot!