Abdul Husain Quotes in Behind the Beautiful Forevers
There was too much wanting at Annawadi lately, or so it seemed to Abdul. As India began to prosper, old ideas about accepting the life assigned by one's caste or one's divinities were yielding to a belief in earthly reinvention. Annawadians now spoke of better lives casually, as if fortune were a cousin arriving on Sunday, as if the future would look nothing like the past.
True, only six of the slum's three thousand residents had permanent jobs. (The rest, like 85 percent of Indian workers, were part of the informal, unorganized economy.) True, a few residents trapped rats and frogs and fried them for dinner. A few ate the scrub grass at the sewage lake's edge. And these individuals, miserable souls, thereby made an inestimable contribution to their neighbors. They gave those slumdwellers who didn't fry rats and eat weeds, like Abdul, a felt sense of their upward mobility.
The four-foot gray slab was uneven, as was the floor, so the shelf wobbled perilously on two supports he'd built to hold it up. Nothing in this idiot house was straight. The only way to stabilize the shelf, and make it level, would be to cut into the brick wall, itself uneven, and cement the slab in place…
Abdul was dismayed. The readiness of the bricks to disintegrate, long suspected, was now confirmed. They'd been made with too much sand, and the mortar between them had deteriorated. Crap bricks that weren't even glued to one another-less a wall than a tremulous stack.
He didn't know if his mother was right about an earlier, peaceful age in which poor people had accepted the fates that their respective gods had written on their foreheads, and in turn treated one another more kindly. He just knew that she didn't really long for companionable misery. She'd known abjectness, loathed its recollection, and raised her son for a modern age of ruthless competition. In this age, some people rose and some people fell, and ever since he was little, she'd made him understand that he had to rise.
Only in detention had it occurred to him that drudge labor in an urban armpit like Annawadi might be considered freedom. He was gratified that boys from other urban armpits agreed.
To his family, Abdul's physical capability had been the mattering thing. He was the workhorse, his moral judgments irrelevant. He wasn't even sure that he had any moral judgments. But when The Master spoke of taufeez and izzat, respectability and honor, Abdul thought the man's stare had blazed across the rows of heads and come to rest on him alone. It was not too late, at seventeen or whatever age he was, to resist the corrupting influences of his world and his nature.
Trying to make sense of the deaths of Kalu and Sanjay, Sunil and Abdul grew closer. Not quite friends-rather, an unnameable, not-entirely-willing category of relationship in which two boys felt themselves bound to two boys who were dead. Sunil and Abdul sat together more often than before, but when they spoke, it was with the curious formality of people who shared the understanding that much of what was said did not matter, and that much of what mattered could not be said.
Once my mother was beating me, and that thought came to me. I said, “lf what is happening now, you beating me, is to keep happening for the rest of my life, it would be a bad life, but it would be a life, too.' And my mother was so shocked when I said that. She said, 'Don't confuse yourself by thinking about such terrible lives.' "
Sunil thought that he, too, had a life. A bad life, certainly—the kind that could be ended as Kalu's had been and then forgotten, because it made no difference to the people who lived in the overcity. But something he'd come to realize on the roof, leaning out, thinking about what would happen if he leaned too far, was that a boy’s life could still matter to himself.
A man, if sensible, didn't make bright distinctions between good and bad, truth and falsehood, justice and that other thing.
"For some time I tried to keep the ice inside me from melting," was how he put it. "But now I'm just becoming dirty water, like everyone else. I tell Allah I love Him immensely, immensely. But I tell Him I cannot be better, because of how the world is."