In mid-May, the election results come in. The status-quo is mostly maintained and the previous prime minister is returned to office. All hopes of real change for the poor in India are postponed. Plans to demolish Annawadi begin as the Beautiful Forever wall is taken down and construction begins on the edges of the slum. Children flock to the construction sites, finding plenty of recyclables churned up by the bulldozers. As rumors of what this land will become fly—a school, a hospital, a taxi stand, and a runway are all considered—Annawadians are glad that they can at least make some profit off of this change.
Though change does not come at the highest level of Indian government, Boo does suggest that there will be some differences in how the privileged in India deal with the poorest citizens. The imminent destruction of Annawadi, though sad, is not presented as a tragedy. Indeed, the absence of the wall means that the slum residents may finally be seen by those in power instead of hidden away. With Annawadi gone, the Annawadians believe they have an opportunity to improve their situation.
A few weeks later, reporters come to Annawadi for a story on the public outcry over Robert Pires’ recent business efforts to pass off horses as zebras for children’s parties. Animal rights activists lament the poor state in which these animals are kept, though Annawadians had often been jealous of the relative luxury these horses had enjoyed. No attention is given to the still uninvestigated deaths of Kalu and Sanjay, and the slum boys accept that the lives of horses mean more to prosperous Mumbai than the lives of the poor who Mumbai would like to pretend do not exist.
Robert Pyre, the original slumlord of Annawadi, resigned because he no longer wanted a part of political corruption in Annawadi. Ironically, he is arrested rather than Asha who actually benefits from illegal deals. Animal rights activists also focus on the wrong thing, worrying about the welfare of horses and ignoring the deplorable conditions that human children endure in Annawadi.
Still, activist activity in Annawadi inspires the Annawadians to begin making noise about the human rights issues that have been present for so long here. Abdul has elaborate fantasies of reforming the police station. Yet the Annawadians do not band together in their efforts to improve Annawadi, each pouring energy into individual causes and fighting ferociously among each other for which cause should receive attention.
Instead of rising up with one goal, the Annawadians remain split in their individual issues. Boo points out that this lack of community cohesion is one of the biggest factors in Annawadi’s destruction. Without social support, all the causes the Annawadians care about are doomed to fail.
In June of 2009, the rains begin again and the new judge hears more witnesses in the case against Kehkashan and Karam. Kehkashan gives up on caring about the verdict, since she is too consumed with the day-to-day state of her family as they try to get enough to eat. With the collapse of their garbage trading business, Abdul has taken jobs transporting other people’s trash to the recyclers and another one of the younger Husain brothers drops out of school to work temp jobs with Mirchi.
Kehkashan and Karam can no longer care about the larger trial looming in their lives, as immediate concerns of getting their family food must take precedence. Yet another child in the Husain family has his future cut short by the pressing need to survive that day, giving up his chance at an education to get a job. The poverty of the Husains thus continues for another generation.
Finally, at the end of July, the prosecutor and defense make closing arguments for the Husain case. After teasing Kehkashan for her burqa and Karam for his job “in plastics,” the judge pronounces them not guilty. All that is left of this miserable business is Abdul’s case in juvenile courts. The hearing is postponed again and again until 2009 is almost over.
The judge who has complete control over Karam and Kehkashan’s future obviously has no respect for their lives as Muslims or as part of the working poor. They are pronounced not guilty, but it is a small victory in the face of all their other troubles and Abdul’s continuing case.
Zehrunisa pays a Sufi mystic to see if Fatima’s ghost is responsible for dragging out Abdul’s case. The Sufi takes Zehrunisa’s money, assuring her that the trouble is now gone. Yet another year passes with no movement on Abdul’s trial. At the end of 2010, Abdul decides he is destined to live his entire life suspended between innocent and guilty. He gives up on his discipleship of The Master and allows himself to become “dirty water” in Annawadi, giving in to unethical choices to make sure his family has food.
After aspirations of modern Indian have failed Zehrunisa, she turns back to the old ways of her faith. Yet even this can no longer comfort her or Abdul as he rests in limbo between innocent and guilty. This state metaphorically applies to all the poor of Mumbai, who are just waiting to be arrested for the “crimes” of living in slums where the rich of India do not want them.
Karam sadly gives up on the dream of Vasai, giving long impassioned speeches on how the Husain family missed out on their future. Abdul pays no attention to this, focusing on his work transporting recyclables around Mumbai. On his various routes, he sometimes dreams of never returning to Annawadi, but he always comes back in the end.
Karam accepts that his family will never get out of Annawadi (or another slum like it). The cycle of poverty continues, as efforts to break out of this way of life are often cut short. Abdul’s days seeing the Mumbai in which he will never belong are a small version of Karam’s resignation.
One morning, Abdul runs in to Sunil, who asks for money to get something to eat. Sunil has gone back to scavenging rather than thieving as the police are getting stricter again. The young boy has almost given up on trying to plan his future, simply taking each day as it comes. Abdul thinks that he will probably never see Sunil again after Annawadi is demolished, but he wishes the younger boy luck finding trash this day.
Though theft offered Sunil money, the threat of police brutality returns Sunil to the more familiar danger of starvation. Sunil sees that ambitions to leave Annawadi rarely pan out, and that grand dreams should be secondary to everyday survival. While the Annawadians must limit their concerns to their immediate surroundings, Boo brings their lives to the world through this book. She makes Sunil matter, showing both how the community of Annawadi fails to thrive and how the same issues of poverty threaten millions of boys like Sunil around the world.