Behind The Beautiful Forever by Katherine Book


It seemed to him that in Annawadi, fortunes derived not just from what people did, or how well they did it, but from the accidents and catastrophes they dodged. A decent life was the train that hand’t hit you, the slumlord you hand’t offended, the malaria you hadn’t caught.

In the West, and among some in the Indian elite, this word, corruption, had purely negative connotations; it was seen as blocking India’s modern, global ambitions. But for the poor of a country where corruption thieved a great deal of opportunity, corruption was one of the genuine opportunities that remained. 

What is the infrastructure of opportunity in this society? Whose capabilities are given wing by the market and a government’s economic and social policy? Whose capabilities are squandered? By what means might that ribby child grow up to be less poor?

A cliché about India holds that the loss of life matters less here than in other countries, because of the Hindu faith in reincarnation, and because of the vast scale of the population. In my reporting, I found that young people felt the loss of life acutely. What appeared to be indifference to other people’s suffering had little to do with reincarnation, and less to do with being born brutish. I believe it had a good deal to do with conditions that had sabotaged their innate capacity for moral action.