This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Behind The Beautiful Forevers" by Katherine Boo. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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Why were the residents of Annawadi trying to marry into money in the book Behind the Beautiful Forevers? What strategies did they use to find wealthy suitors?
The residents of Annawadi wanted to marry into money so they could attain economic security and climb the social ladder. Residents like Manju tried to improve their appearance and build their social networks in hopes of expanding their marriage prospects.
Read more to discover how Annawadi’s residents like Manju tried to marry into money.
Marrying into Money as a Way out of Poverty
Annawadi’s residents attempted to make a living, secure marriages for their children, and find opportunities to climb the social ladder. Their motivation to encourage their children to marry into money stemmed from trying to escape worse circumstances in economically depressed rural areas. But sometimes, they couldn’t overcome their challenges and suffered violent deaths or suicide.
In the rural area of Vidarbha, where Asha had grown up, drought was becoming more common, which was a major problem for farmers. Crops failed and farmers turned to loan officers to get funds to buy new seeds, taking on huge debts that they struggled to pay off. With no hope of ever paying off their debts, thousands of farmers committed suicide every year.
To address rural suicides, the government was working to implement some reforms. For example, they worked to compensate the families of farmers who had a family member commit suicide and tried to establish subsidized income for farmers.
But many people turned to cities like Mumbai for work. An estimated 500,000 people from rural India came to Mumbai each year. However, they weren’t always successful. One of Manju’s cousins came to Annawadi to find work, but after a month of no success, returned to Vidarbha.
Asha and Manju: Rising Through the Ranks
Asha took Manju on a trip to Vidarbha to look for a husband for her daughter. Growing up there, Asha had been thought of as a strong worker, able to do hard farm work even when food was scarce. Her relatives could see from her appearance that she was in good health and had made a decent life for herself in Annawadi.
Asha saw getting Manju to marry into money as a chance to lift her family further out of poverty by marrying her to a decently wealthy family. While visiting Vidarbha, they found a soldier who was interested in marrying Manju, and he met with Asha and Manju to discuss it.
Though Asha had liked the man, and he was somewhat wealthy, her husband objected to the marriage because he believed army men tended to be heavy drinkers. This was despite the fact that he himself, though not in the army, was a heavy drinker.
Although Manju would like to marry into money, she hoped to marry someone who wouldn’t take her away from her life in Mumbai. When she and Asha returned to Annawadi, they spent some time trying to improve their appearances and building their social networks. Asha hoped that this would expand Manju’s chances to marry into money, and prepare them to fit into high-class society.
Their tactics included changing their appearance, including wearing jeans and saris outside of the house rather than house dresses. Manju also trained to become an insurance broker. Manju and Asha thought that these activities would help them network with people in higher classes and bring in more money to the family.
Manju had continued to teach elementary school for two hours each day, but Asha finally insisted she scale back her hours. Even though Manju wanted to be a teacher after finishing college, her mother thought that teaching took time she could be using to widen her social circles.
Manju started teaching only every two or three days. In the meantime, another school opened in Annawadi and some of her students started going there. The school, run by a nonprofit, stayed open just long enough to take pictures showing the students learning so they could get money before closing.
With the extra time gained from spending less time teaching, Manju trained to provide disaster relief after floods and terror attacks. Terrorist bombings had happened in other major Indian cities, and many considered Mumbai a likely target due to its financial sector. During the training, Manju and a college boy took a liking to one another. It was her first romance, but he broke it off soon after, saying that they couldn’t be together because Manju wasn’t part of the middle class like he was.
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Here's what you'll find in our full Behind The Beautiful Forevers summary :
- A nonfiction account of the lives of residents of in one Mumbai slum
- How the globalized world affects many people in India
- A story of poverty, exploitation, and the struggle to survive