Renovations on the house begin and all the Husain children are kept home from school to help. They cart all the family’s possessions to the street where Karam and Zehrunisa guard them so nothing will be stolen. Other Annawadians pass by, curious to see what the Husains really have. They are richer than their neighbors suspected, with real furniture and ceramic cooking wear.
As the Husains are improving their conditions, they invite jealousy and spite from their neighbors. Stealing other’s belongings is a reliable way to raise one’s own situation. The Husains have kept their good fortune a secret so far because showing off their valuables is an invitation to have others try to knock them down.
Kehkashan grumbles at the obvious jealousy of their neighbors, but Zehrunisa is proud to show off their good standing. Improving the house has obvious health benefits, but it also means that the Husains could be in better standing to receive housing relocation if Annawadi is ever destroyed by the airport. Slum residents who have squatted here since 2000 are entitled to an apartment, and the Annawadians think that a better house will convince officials that they have been there longer.
As much as Zehrunisa loves the chance to prove to the other Annawadians that they have “won” the competition to survive here, she also wants to give her family a legacy that will carry over even if Annawadi is destroyed. While it may seem silly to sink money into a place that the Husains know could be erased, it shows their intense desire to be recognized as legitimate members of the city.
By the second day, the small window is finished and the Husains hammer their stone floor flat to prepare for tiles. Karam goes to buy the ceramic tiles while Fatima yells through the wall at the Husains to keep the noise down. Abdul ignores this, focused on making a flat shelf on a crooked wall in a house on a crooked foundation. He decides he should chip into the wall to cement the shelf into place.
The close quarters of Annawadi means that any action one family takes affect all of their neighbors. Abdul sees the interconnected nature of the neighborhood in the crooked wall of his house. This wall was built on a foundation in Annawadi that has been crooked for so long that there is no chance to make something straight. In this environment, Abdul also cannot make straight-forward choices.
Fatima yells even louder as the wall that her hut shares with the Husains begins to shake. Zehrunisa half-heartedly placates her while Abdul continues to ignore her. Fatima gets louder, until Zehrunisa gets irritated that Fatima is complaining about a wall that the Husains built and nicely let Fatima’s family use. Meanwhile, Abdul is disappointed to find that the bricks of the wall are so poorly made that they are disintegrating when he tries to chip into them.
In another example of the competition in Annawadi, improving life for the Husains means making things worse for Fatima. Success for anyone necessitates failure for someone else. Following from this, it is incredibly difficult to make anything good that will last. Abdul sees this in the bricks, which show the Husain’s grand hopes and the ways that their supposed success does not actually live up to the dream.
Zehrunisa and Fatima each go outside, yelling and shoving each other about the wall. A crowd forms to watch the fight, and Abdul rushes outside to pull his mother away from this shameful display. Fatima leaves and Abdul goes back inside to finish while she is gone. He is heartbroken to see that the stone shelf has fallen in his absence, taking another chunk out of the wall. Abdul sighs and gets back to work.
The fight between Fatima and Zehrunisa shows the inability of anyone in Annawadi to celebrate another person’s good fortune. Following this fight with the broken wall, a metaphor for how difficult it is to truly make something permanent in this slum, advances Boo’s argument that it is precisely this lack of support that worsens the difficulties for the slum residents.
Fifteen minutes later, a neighbor tells Zehrunisa that Fatima has gone to the Sahar Police Station to accuse Zehrunisa of assault. Kehkashan tells her mother to go to the station to share her own side of the story. While Karam returns home empty-handed, Zehrunisa runs to the station and interrupts Fatima’s story of how the Husains beat a cripple. Both women begin to cry, making the police angry that they have bothered official police with silly women’s problems. The officer tells Fatima to go home and leads Zehrunisa to a chair to wait.
The police in Mumbai are not a trustworthy authority for the slum residents. Zehrunisa knows that the police will not look for the truth, but prosecute whoever has the most to pay. Karam’s failure to get the tiles is another sign that Zehrunisa’s grand dreams of improving life in Annawadi are not possible given the harsh circumstances of being poor in Mumbai.
Asha, at the police station helping police offers fix a government loan, sees Zehrunisa and jumps on the chance to increase her goodwill and influence in Annawadi by solving this fight. Asha tells Zehrunisa that she will convince Fatima to give up the accusation for 1,000 rupees. Zehrunisa does not trust Asha, and turns down her offer. Zehrunisa doesn’t trust the police either, who often ask for bribes to make sure justice goes to the right person. She already paid off an officer named Thokale for running a business on airport land, and does not want to pay any more.
Asha offers to help Zehrunisa only because there is significant personal gain involved, not out of any goodwill for her neighbor. Zehrunisa rejects the corrupt system that governs “justice” for the citizens of Mumbai. Money is the easiest way to get off from a charge – even if the charge is completely false. However, Zehrunisa naively wants to trust that the truth will be more important than the bribes she hasn’t paid.
Back in Annawadi, Kehkashan is guarding her family’s things and fuming at the sight of Fatima putting on elaborate make-up. Kehkashan insults Fatima and threatens to twist off her other leg, while Fatima insults Kehkashan’s inability to keep a husband. Karam comes outside to defend his daughter’s virtue.
Family loyalty is one of the few things in Annawadi that disrupt the general perspective of “every man for himself.” Kehkashan nobly defends her mother, but unfortunately ends up making the situation worse.
Inside, Abdul is trying to clean up after finishing the shelf. He is disappointed that the grand plans for improving the wall have turned out so poorly, then shocked to hear his father, Karam, call him to come beat Fatima. Abdul has never disobeyed his father, but he doesn’t want to hit a cripple. Luckily, Kehkashan interrupts and leads Karam home while Fatima continues to threaten them from inside her house.
Even practical Abdul, normally so cautious, became swept up in the idea of making a better home. The crooked wall, too difficult to fix properly, stays as an example of the legacy of poor choices in Annawadi. Karam is about to make another mistake by threatening Fatima, exacerbating the fight instead of letting the anger fizzle out.
Kehkashan starts a fire for dinner. Meanwhile, Fatima’s daughter Noori returns home for dinner to find the door to her house shut. Noori gets her mother’s friend Cynthia, who can’t open the door either. Cynthia lifts Noori up to a hole in the wall where Noori can see her mother pour kerosene on her head. Noori starts to scream that her mother is on fire. Men rush across the street and break down the door where they find Fatima inside, having set herself on fire and then doused the flames.
Setting one’s self on fire has a long history in India. Most famous is the practice of sati, in which a widow set herself on fire during her late husband’s funeral. For Fatima, stuck without options for improving her life and reminding once again that no one in Annawadi respects her, burning herself seems like the only way to express her intense dissatisfaction and pain with the oppression in her life.
A crowd forms outside, clucking at Fatima for burning herself for attention. Fatima screams that this is the Husain family’s fault. Kehkashan tells her brothers to go to the police station to tell their story before Fatima can accuse them of burning her. Fatima begs for water, but only a poor girl named Priya will get near to her; everyone else is afraid of ghosts if Fatima dies.
Fatima’s burning is another violent act that the residents of Annawadi seem to accept with little question, as Boo again underscores how prevalent pain is in this environment. Fatima and the Husains are on their own to pick up the pieces after this disaster, with everyone else watching the spectacle instead of helping.
The crowd argues about who should take Fatima to the hospital, eventually settling on Asha. Asha offers to pay for an auto rickshaw, but refuses to go herself. Secretly, Asha thinks that Zehrunisa should have let her help before Fatima became this hysterical. She laughs that the Husains would be in prison forever if Fatima were to say that the Husains burned her for being born Hindu. The crowd disperses, deciding to let Fatima’s husband worry about the hospital.
As there is no emergency response program in Mumbai that will come into a slum, Fatima’s only hope for receiving medical attention would be if someone paid out of their own pocket to get her to the hospital. This is incredibly unlikely, as no one seems to have any sympathy for Fatima. Asha even laughs at this problem, simply thinking of how Fatima could ruin the Husains if she were to connect this to the old divisions between Hindus and Muslims. Social division and selfishness in the slum is much stronger than any human connection.