In November, the prices of recyclables fall drastically due to the recession in America and the global economic crisis. Abdul consoles the other scavengers by telling them that the tourists will still come in winter and bring back the economy. Yet the news is full of terror attacks and the adults of Annawadi are afraid that the airport and the luxury hotels will become targets. When an attack does come to the nearby Taj Hotel, the Annawadians know that the tourists will not be coming this year.
2009 brings economic hardship for the Annawadians. By January’s end, most people are eating rats and catching frogs. Sunil has become a thief, desperate to make money. Sonu is disgusted with Sunil’s dishonorable behavior, but Sunil knows he must do what he has to for survival. Furthermore, Sunil is well suited to thievery; he’s small enough to deflect suspicion and smart enough to only take calculated risks.
As brutal as the recession was in developed countries, the effects in the precarious economy of Annawadi were ruinous. In this environment, everyone must let go of their pride or their morals in order to keep eating. Though Sunil does not respect thievery, he is forced into it so that he can eat.
Other thieves want Sunil to help them steal from a construction site at a new catering company, but Sunil is wary of the police after the beating he got last time he was caught. He prefers to steal from a construction zone at a parking structure in the airport’s international terminal. He goes there to look for German silver, the most lucrative metal in the current market, but also to take advantage of the space on the parking structure’s unfinished roof. Looking down on the expanse of Mumbai, Sunil feels both small and important as he watches the people below.
Sunil may be a thief, but he has not given in completely to that lifestyle. Boo shows Sunil’s complex emotions about being forced into a life of theft, and his intense desire to be noticed for something other than crimes. Like most of the boys in Annawadi, Sunil wants his life to matter beyond the confines of the slum. On the roof, Sunil can at least pretend he is a part of the greater world of Mumbai.
Back in Annawadi, Sunil thinks sadly about all the people who want to die due to the hard economic times in Annawadi. He misses Kalu and his goofy jokes. Abdul is more sober company, always talking about philosophical questions such as what other people’s lives feel like. Abdul muses aloud to Sunil that even a life where only terrible things happen is still a life. When Abdul voiced that thought to his mother, while she was beating him, Zehrunisa told him not to think about terrible lives. Sunil thinks about this later, deciding that his own life does matter even if it only matters to himself.
Boo shows that the many deaths weigh heavily on Sunil, though he only allows himself to think of these things when he is alone so as not to appear vulnerable. In the face of so much death, Abdul and Sunil consider what makes life worth living at all. They eventually settle on the idea that life is meaningful simply because it is life. Sunil takes pride in his own life, deciding that he does matter even if no one powerful or important can see that.
In February, another thief beats up Sunil and forces him to become part of the operation to rob the new catering building. Sunil earns enough money from the stolen goods to buy food and get himself an earring. After a few more weeks of lucrative theft, Sunil realizes that he is growing again and is almost as tall as his little sister Sunita.
Though Sunil resisted becoming a dishonest thief, it is the only way that he will thrive in Annawadi. The circumstances of the slum are so harsh that some corrupt actions is necessary to really survive.