The slum Annawadi is next to the international airport in Mumbai, but the poverty of Annawadi is hidden from the rich airport clientele thanks to a concrete wall pasted with advertisements for ceramic tiles that will stay “beautiful forever.” Katherine Boo’s mission as a journalist is to get behind that wall and inform the rest of the world about the real situation for much of the Indian population. The ad on the wall is an obvious exaggeration, as no tiles could actually stay beautiful forever. Similarly, the Indian government has projected the false narrative that all of the problems of poverty and slums are in the past. While India’s economy has improved, there are still large populations living in temporary housing without permanent jobs, such as those who live in Annawadi behind this wall. The wall allows India to perpetuate a lie, hiding the living conditions of India’s poor from the tourists who come in to the Mumbai airport.
In addition to hiding India’s poverty from the rest of the world, the wall keeps the residents of Annawadi from being able to join the modern society of the more cosmopolitan India. Slum residents are not allowed to go into the airport and are even discouraged from looking over the wall to see what people at the airport are doing. Thus, the wall symbolizes both the inadequacy of the Indian government’s narrative of progress that it sells to the world, and the barrier that still exists for the poor in India, who are not given access to India’s new economic momentum and social mobility. By the end of the novel, the wall has been torn down in order for the airport to expand. With the wall down and the slum, an obstacle to the airport’s expansion, in full view of passengers, Boo suggests that city officials, and the rest of the world, will be forced to reckon with the slum residents as India continues to develop in the future.
The Beautiful Forever Wall Quotes in Behind the Beautiful Forevers
The airport people had erected tall, gleaming aluminum fences on the side of the slum that most drivers passed before turning into the international terminal. Drivers approaching the terminal from the other direction would see only a concrete wall covered with sunshine-yellow advertisements. The ads were for Italianate floor tiles, and the corporate slogan ran the wall's length: BEAUTIFUL FOREVER BEAUTIFUL FOREVER BEAUTIFUL FOREVER. Sunil regularly walked atop the Beautiful Forever wall, surveying for trash, but Airport Road was unhelpfully clean.
She was less and less sure she wanted to go to Vasai, less and less sure her husband would live to get there. She wanted a more hygienic home here, in the name of her children's vitality… On the floor she wanted ceramic tiles like the ones advertised on the Beautiful Forever wall - tiles that could be scrubbed clean, instead of broken concrete that harbored filth in each striation. With these small improvements, she thought her children might stay as healthy as children in Annawadi could be.