Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Abdul Husain Character Analysis

Though the book has no true protagonist, a large portion of Boo’s narrative follows the life of Abdul Husain, a teenage Muslim boy who works as a trash and recyclables trader in the Mumbai slum of Annawadi. Abdul is quiet, thoughtful and a bit of an outcast in Annawadi. Unlike most of the boys of his generation, Abdul feels attached to the old traditions of life in India rather than hoping for a different future for himself. Abdul gives himself practical dreams for his future, seeing that those who are ambitious in the slum usually do not achieve what they want. He is somewhat jealous of the privileges his younger brother Mirchi receives, as Abdul works long days so that Mirchi can continue to go to school. However, he truly loves his family and has no resentment towards them for how hard he works. Though Abdul is hard-working and generally virtuous, his life is utterly changed when he is falsely accused of pushing his neighbor, a woman named Fatima, into burning herself. Abdul struggles to retain a sense of morality in the corrupt world where he tries to eke out survival for himself and his family.

Abdul Husain Quotes in Behind the Beautiful Forevers

The Behind the Beautiful Forevers quotes below are all either spoken by Abdul Husain or refer to Abdul Husain. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Society, Competition, and Social Division Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Random House edition of Behind the Beautiful Forevers published in 2014.
Prologue Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Abdul Husain
Page Number: xvi-xvii
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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Chapter 1 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Abdul Husain
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 6 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Abdul Husain
Related Symbols: Abdul’s Brick Wall
Page Number: 87-88
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Chapter 7 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Abdul Husain, Zehrunisa Husain
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Chapter 8 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Abdul Husain
Page Number: 128-129
Explanation and Analysis:

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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.

Related Characters: Abdul Husain, The Master
Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Chapter 11 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Abdul Husain, Sunil, Kalu, Sanjay
Page Number: 172
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Chapter 13 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Abdul Husain, Sunil
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Chapter 17 Quotes

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."

Related Characters: Abdul Husain
Page Number: 241
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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Abdul Husain Character Timeline in Behind the Beautiful Forevers

The timeline below shows where the character Abdul Husain appears in Behind the Beautiful Forevers. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prologue: Between Roses
Society, Competition, and Social Division Theme Icon
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
July 17, 2008 – Mumbai. At midnight, the Mumbai police are looking for Abdul, a teenage recyclables sorter who lives in a Mumbai slum. Abdul’s father, Karam, has decided... (full context)
Society, Competition, and Social Division Theme Icon
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
Abdul makes it to his trash shed and hides among the garbage. He has made a... (full context)
Society, Competition, and Social Division Theme Icon
Life and Death Theme Icon
On this night, Abdul has been accused of setting his neighbor, a crippled woman snidely called One Leg, on... (full context)
Society, Competition, and Social Division Theme Icon
Permanence, Legacy, and Erasure Theme Icon
Abdul’s mother, Zehrunisa, also disapproves of One Leg because she wears perfume and lipstick. Abdul silently... (full context)
Society, Competition, and Social Division Theme Icon
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
The Local vs. The Global Theme Icon
Abdul’s mind wanders to the current state of “wanting” in Annawadi now that people believe that... (full context)
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
...Annawadi, striking fear into the hearts of all the residents. They are strangely polite to Abdul’s family, simply relaying that Karam, Abdul, and Abdul’s sister Kehkashan have been charged with beating... (full context)
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
Abdul weighs his options, wondering if the police will return to look for him tonight. The... (full context)
Chapter 1: Annawadi
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...chapter then starts, moving back in time to January 2008, before Fatima burned herself and Abdul turned himself in. Zehrunisa wakes Abdul, telling him to get to work. Obediently, Abdul gets... (full context)
Society, Competition, and Social Division Theme Icon
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
The Local vs. The Global Theme Icon
...need to catch rats and frogs to eat each day. For a garbage trader like Abdul, times are particularly good due to the high price of scrap metal while China prepares... (full context)
Society, Competition, and Social Division Theme Icon
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
Abdul sorts trash, looking out for stray goats who might try to steal his bottles. In... (full context)
Society, Competition, and Social Division Theme Icon
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
Abdul avoids the other boys, but he too listens in to Rahul’s tales of the foreign... (full context)
Society, Competition, and Social Division Theme Icon
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
...though the Husains are both northern and Muslim, Rahul and Mirchi have a fast friendship. Abdul envies this closeness, as Abdul has only one casual friend, a thief named Kalu. Abdul’s... (full context)
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
...especially because they must pay for Mirchi’s schooling now that he is past 8th grade. Abdul tries not to be jealous of his brother, whose schooling and charm might be enough... (full context)
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
The Local vs. The Global Theme Icon
...grit from the nearby concrete plant, a leading cause of asthma and tuberculosis in Annawadi. Abdul happily finishes sorting his trash, then loads a small jalopy with the bags and heads... (full context)
Society, Competition, and Social Division Theme Icon
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
Abdul thinks about the men who work at the recycling plants, remembering a young boy whose... (full context)
Chapter 3: Sunil
Society, Competition, and Social Division Theme Icon
By February 2008, Abdul seems more anxious than ever after news of violence against northern migrants (like him and... (full context)
Society, Competition, and Social Division Theme Icon
The Local vs. The Global Theme Icon
Sunil, a 12-year-old scavenger, is scared to see Abdul so changed. Sunil learned to read people while living at Sister Paulette’s orphanage and he... (full context)
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
...die, much less get enough trash to feed himself properly. The other garbage workers, like Abdul, have a running bet on who will be the next scavenger dead. (full context)
Society, Competition, and Social Division Theme Icon
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
Abdul warns Sunil not to get involved with Eraz-ex, feeling somewhat protective of the younger scavenger,... (full context)
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
Life and Death Theme Icon
One night, Sunil overhears Kalu tell Abdul about a thieving operation that went wrong. Kalu found some iron bars at an industrial... (full context)
Chapter 4: Manju
Society, Competition, and Social Division Theme Icon
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
...scavenger, no longer comes because he considers Manju’s class meaningless when he could be working. Abdul listens from the street, wondering how anyone could pretend to be superior to Manju, the... (full context)
Chapter 5: Ghost House
Society, Competition, and Social Division Theme Icon
...about the cost when the Husains have so many marriages to arrange. Next up is Abdul’s, and Zehrunisa has talked to the family of a scrap dealer in Saki Naka. Mirchi... (full context)
Society, Competition, and Social Division Theme Icon
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
Karam thinks that Abdul will only be happy when they move to Vasai, away from the poisonous atmosphere of... (full context)
Chapter 6: The Hole She Called a Window
Society, Competition, and Social Division Theme Icon
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
Permanence, Legacy, and Erasure Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Society, Competition, and Social Division Theme Icon
Permanence, Legacy, and Erasure Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
Permanence, Legacy, and Erasure Theme Icon
Inside, Abdul is trying to clean up after finishing the shelf. He is disappointed that the grand... (full context)
Chapter 7: The Come-Apart
Life and Death Theme Icon
Fatima has already registered accusations against Karam, Abdul, and Kehkashan. This prompted Karam’s arrest and Abdul’s subsequent flight to the police office. But... (full context)
Permanence, Legacy, and Erasure Theme Icon
Over in the Sahar Police Station, Abdul is beaten with a leather strap. The officer warns Abdul that if the disabled women... (full context)
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
Permanence, Legacy, and Erasure Theme Icon
Abdul and Karam are kept in the police station’s “unofficial cell” where the police do not... (full context)
Society, Competition, and Social Division Theme Icon
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
Abdul and Karam debate about paying these bribes, knowing they will have to save money for... (full context)
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
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As the days in the station stretch on, Abdul ignores all of this, thinking of an action movie called Alive where a man was... (full context)
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Abdul spends his days in a haze, unaware of much besides the periodic beatings. Eventually, he... (full context)
Chapter 8: The Master
Society, Competition, and Social Division Theme Icon
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
Life and Death Theme Icon
...washing his profitable garbage away. The Husain family also suffers, as Mirchi tries to take Abdul’s role but is not as adept at judging the worth of the trash. Zehrunisa is... (full context)
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
...is furious that Zehrunisa told people in Annawadi that he took a bribe to protect Abdul and Karam. Zehrunisa babbles that she never told a soul, unsure what she has said... (full context)
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
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The only choice Zehrunisa felt good about was paying the officers to try Abdul as a child. She thinks Abdul is 17, but she truly has no idea exactly... (full context)
Society, Competition, and Social Division Theme Icon
The Local vs. The Global Theme Icon
Dongri is in a thriving middle-class Muslim neighborhood. On his way there, Abdul notes the people in the street living happy, peaceful lives. The detention center itself is... (full context)
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While Abdul waits to be called by a warden for inspection, he looks at the portraits of... (full context)
Society, Competition, and Social Division Theme Icon
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Abdul’s days at Dongri follow a regular pattern. He and the other boys (who are mostly... (full context)
Society, Competition, and Social Division Theme Icon
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
One morning, Abdul has a hospital inspection to see if he is really a minor. The doctor examines... (full context)
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
Permanence, Legacy, and Erasure Theme Icon
...reform and redemption that await the boys who abandon their criminal ways. Almost despite himself, Abdul cries with The Master and exalts in his newfound inspiration to become a refined and... (full context)
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
Abdul assesses his life so far and decides that he has been mostly virtuous already, but... (full context)
Chapter 10: Parrots, Caught and Sold
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A few weeks later, Zehrunisa is allowed to take Abdul home from Dongri as long as Abdul checks in at the detention center every week... (full context)
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
After his time at Dongri, Abdul is more talkative to the scavengers he trades with. He seems especially intent on spreading... (full context)
Life and Death Theme Icon
The next evening, Kalu and Sunil are selling airport trash to Abdul when a disabled man suddenly walks up and punches Abdul in the chest. Abdul does... (full context)
Chapter 11: Proper Sleep
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Zehrunisa is terrified that the police are coming to her house to arrest Abdul for the attack by the disabled man, but the police have come to ask if... (full context)
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Permanence, Legacy, and Erasure Theme Icon
Life and Death Theme Icon
Sunil and Abdul become closer after Kalu and Sanjay’s deaths. They theorize on who killed Kalu, guessing that... (full context)
Chapter 13: Something Shining
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
The Local vs. The Global Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Permanence, Legacy, and Erasure Theme Icon
Life and Death Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 14: The Trial
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...in the process. This trial only considers Karam and Kehkashan’s involvement in Fatima’s burning, as Abdul will be tried as a minor. (full context)
Chapter 15: Ice
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One afternoon after the trial, Abdul, Mirchi, Zehrunisa and Karam consider the trash left in the storeroom. They have to sell... (full context)
Society, Competition, and Social Division Theme Icon
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
...a terror attack. Karam laments the terrorists who twist the words of the Koran and Abdul feels hopeful when he sees that the Hindus of Mumbai don’t seem to transfer their... (full context)
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The Husain family’s business finally fails completely when another garbage trader moves in to Annawadi. Abdul tries to trade in a nearby neighborhood, Saki Naka, but mostly he just sits and... (full context)
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
...the poor, forced to reinvent themselves over and over, this adaptability no longer brings profit. Abdul wants to believe that his new persona as a virtuous student of The Master will... (full context)
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
The Local vs. The Global Theme Icon
As a distraction one afternoon, Abdul goes to Haji Ali, the biggest Muslim gathering place in the city. He sees the... (full context)
Chapter 17: A School, a Hospital, a Cricket Field
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...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... (full context)
Society, Competition, and Social Division Theme Icon
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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One morning, Abdul runs in to Sunil, who asks for money to get something to eat. Sunil has... (full context)