12 February 2015

Why Dreams Turn to Ash [Book Club]

[On Thursdays, we are discussing books. Currently, we are on Part 2 of Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Here is the book club overview and the first post on the prologue and Part 1.]



Following last week's reading, which introduced us to the characters and setting of this Mumbai slum, we now get the background on the horrific opening scene: the burning of the One Leg. Still, there is so much more in these chapters than a storyline. There are hurts and dreams and expectations and failures--and an explosion of corruption that rattles us to grit out "That's not fair!"

Have the ashes settled in your soul too, wheezing your conscience and erupting out in cough-questions of anger, confusion, and compassion? This book will scar us with its truth. The horror of depravity--both physical and spiritual--is something easier avoided than faced. May we be brave enough to open our eyes and see . . . then honest enough to identify how we ourselves fit into this narrative.


I'm one for charts, so we'll be filling one in today. All those involved in this devastating tragedy had dreams for themselves, and they also had expectations that others laid on them. Furthermore, their reality hardly lined up with either of these other categories. How did this affect them, and could a self-evaluation have changed their decision-making . . . and maybe this charred outcome?


Zehrunisa
What motivated her? What was her dream? Her reason for appealing to Karam for home improvements was her family's health. "She wanted a more hygienic home here, in the name of her children's vitality. . . With these small improvements, she thought her children might stay as healthy as children in Annawadi could be."

What did others expect of her? It seems everyone wanted something from Zehrunisa. She was a woman pulled in every direction--to the garbage scales with Abdul to help haggle, to the stove to cook cartilaginous stew for her ailing husband, to her neighbor to break up a fight, to her baby Lallu who needed nursing. Still, in their eyes, she fell short. Abdul wished she spoke more gracefully. Karam wished she would be more submissive, probably return to purdah. Fatima wished she would approve of her, praise her, even befriend her.

Who was Zehrunisa? She was a feisty leader. She was loyal. And she was caring.

DREAMSREALITYEXPECTATIONS
What (s)he wantsWhat (s)he isWhat others want of him/her
Zehrunisahealthy familyleader, feisty, loyal, caringgentleness (Abdul), submission (Karam), affirmation (Fatima)

Questions:
  • Given her responsibilities, was it realistic for others to expect these other attributes in her? 
  • Should she have treated Fatima differently (before the wall incident)? Was her distance and judgement justified? 

Karam
What did he want in life? "Who is happy, living here [in Annawadi]?" he asked, then he spoke of Vasai as if it were a dream destination. With his hopes set on this phantom future home, Karam imagined ideal relaxation to a point when he overlooked the immediate needs of his family.

What did others want from him? Zehrunisa wanted respect. She said to him, "Just because I can't read, you pretend to everyone that you're the hero in this family and I am the nothing." Abdul probably would've appreciated an apology from his father. He and Karam stopped talking after a few days in detention, and Abdul said, "What did he have to say, anyway? That if his parents had been as paranoid and alert as he was, they would have kept their mouths shut with the crazy One Leg?"

So who was Karam? He was a sickly dreamer who let others take care of him then spoke condescendingly to them.

DREAMSREALITYEXPECTATIONS
What (s)he wantsWhat (s)he isWhat others want of him/her
Zehrunisahealthy familyleader, feisty, loyal, caringgentleness (Abdul), submission (Karam), affirmation (Fatima)
Karamdistance (hospital, Vasai), servicecondescending, dreamer, sicklyappreciation
Question:
  • How could Karam have changed his behavior to make his dreams more likely? Would it have pained or shamed him to show appreciation to his wife and son? How would this have changed the situation--or the people involved?

Abdul
What were his aspirations? Before chapter 8, all Abdul wanted was to "go home to the place that he hated." In fact, he didn't aspire to more than what he had, except maybe with a little more money and a soft-spoken wife. Then, the Master came and motivated him toward higher morality. He suddenly wanted to be a better man.

What was expected of him? "To his family, Abdul's physical capability had been the mattering thing. He was the workhorse, his moral judgments irrelevant." The failing business during his incarceration proved that Abdul was the money-maker, and this was what others needed of him. Trustworthy and reliable, he was their family's financial stability.

Who was Abdul? He was hardworking, honest, and simple. 

DREAMSREALITYEXPECTATIONS
What (s)he wantsWhat (s)he isWhat others want of him/her
Zehrunisahealthy familyleader, feisty, loyal, caringgentleness (Abdul), submission (Karam), affirmation (Fatima)
Karamdistance (hospital, Vasai), servicecondescending, dreamer, sicklyappreciation
Abdulstability, moral improvementhard working, family providerreliability
Questions:
  • Abdul's simple dreams, before the burning, blended well with this current work. How could this new direction of righteousness affect his business, his family? 
  • The Master was a motivator. He didn't use religion--only persuasive examples and strong emotions. How is this kind of change dangerous? 

Fatima
What did she want in life? Fatima ached for love and acceptance. Instead of finding that in her husband and daughters, she "proved" her desirability with continual, public affairs. 

What did others want from her? Did they want anything unreasonable? Her husband wanted kindness. Her daughters wanted affection. Her neighbors wanted neighborliness. In response to all her outbursts, all of Annawadi probably would've welcomed peace. 

Who was Fatima? She was wounded in body and soul. She was insecure, abusive, and unfaithful. Abdul thought this about her: " . . . as distinctive as Fatima looked, he considered her a common type. At the heart of her bad nature, like many bad natures, was probably envy. And at the heart of envy was possibly hope--that the good fortune of others might one day be hers."

DREAMSREALITYEXPECTATIONS
What (s)he wantsWhat (s)he isWhat others want of him/her
Zehrunisahealthy familyleader, feisty, loyal, caringgentleness (Abdul), submission (Karam), affirmation (Fatima)
Karamdistance (hospital, Vasai), servicecondescending, dreamer, sicklyappreciation
Abdulstability, moral improvementhard working, family providerreliability
Fatimalove, acceptanceabusive, unfaithful, envious, insecurepeace
Questions:
  • What would it have taken for Fatima to feel whole?
  • Her methods at attaining her dreams only yielded false, temporary love. What could she have done to work toward true acceptance, friendship, and peace? Was her fate truly sealed in her deformity?

Asha
What was she after? Power and position.

What did others want from her? Everyone in Annawadi sought her out for help. 

Who was Asha? "Ruthless" may seem too strong a term for her, but was she? She analyzed every situation in order to wield it in her favor. While she did help Zehrunisa at first, the pressure came after a few days to "open the purse strings." Karam questioned her motives in calling to stop the beatings on him and Abdul. Could anyone trust her? Still, in a system so twisted, people continued to crawl to Asha for help navigating its corruption. 

DREAMSREALITYEXPECTATIONS
What (s)he wantsWhat (s)he isWhat others want of him/her
Zehrunisahealthy familyleader, feisty, loyal, caringgentleness (Abdul), submission (Karam), affirmation (Fatima)
Karamdistance (hospital, Vasai), servicecondescending, dreamer, sicklyappreciation
Abdulstability, moral improvementhard working, family providerreliability
Fatimalove, acceptanceabusive, unfaithful, envious, insecurepeace
Asharank, powerruthlesshelp
Questions:
  • If Asha used her power to help her neighbors, would she sink from her position? 
  • What would Asha gain if she was named slumlord? Could she then help people--or would it always be a selfish pursuit of more and more power, privilege, and money?
  • Was she happy?

You, Me, Us
Now, what if we took the same chart to our own lives? What would it look like if we honestly filled in our dreams, our expectations (from others), and our realities? Can we see a correlation between the categories--possibly a reason why we're not getting what we want, or why we're not living at peace with those around us?

Here's mine, if I let the truth cut me. I'd love to hear your stories too.

DREAMSREALITYEXPECTATIONS
What (s)he wantsWhat (s)he isWhat others want of him/her
Zehrunisahealthy familyleader, feisty, loyal, caringgentleness (Abdul), submission (Karam), affirmation (Fatima)
Karamdistance (hospital, Vasai), servicecondescending, dreamer, sicklyappreciation
Abdulstability, moral improvementhard working, family providerreliability
Fatimalove, acceptanceabusive, unfaithful, envious, insecurepeace
Asharank, powerruthlesshelp
Meaccomplishmentmulti-tasking, reactive, anxiousattention

We looked at characters today--the people behind the burning. I invite you to respond to any/all of the questions or topics brought up here or even another theme not mentioned above. Please join our discussion of Behind the Beautiful Forevers.

Abide in Him,







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2 comments:

  1. I see this week’s topic as going to the issue of what in our life and relationships we have control of and what we do not, and how we choose to incorporate these into how we live out our lives. I am by nature an egotistical introvert, but as a follower of Jesus I am called to live as a servant in community. This daily clash of the titans in my life understandably yields messy results sometimes, but it is a battle which affects who I am and who I will become. Our realities are always a wagon wheel tug of war between our carnal and spiritual desires and outside duties and relationships. Although much is beyond our control, we do have the final say in who we want to be.

    Breaking it down on the chart into the categories of dreams, expectations of others and reality, I needed to take it even further to differentiate the expectations of others that were natural results of relationship and those that I had fostered myself. My family does, and should, expect respect and attention from me. But sometimes my desire for significance creates a dependence from others that would not naturally have occurred, just like Asha. People come to her for help because she created that relationship. On the other hand, like Fatima, we can be the reason our desires are not met by fostering tension and separation in relationships. She wanted to be loved and accepted, but drove away all who could have provided it.

    Zehrunisa seems to stand somewhere in the middle of the extremes. She is a strong woman juggling the legitimate expectations of care and respect from her family, as well as problems created by not controlling her tongue. She is an interesting contrast to Abdul in that she is not one to easily see the “big picture” or the long term consequences of her words or actions, like making a show of improving her home or fighting with her emotionally unstable neighbor. Abdul knows that it is easier to prevent problems than solve them. He seems better able to look beyond himself, both practically and morally, than his parents. I think because of this, he is able to make the expectations placed on him by others become a means of improving himself. The change beginning to occur in the detention house could alter the balance of dreams and expectations in relation to his family, but his resolve to accept responsibility for himself remains the same.

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    Replies
    1. You make a powerful point, Leigh, about expectations that we ourselves foster then possible resent. I think of how easy it is to "dig ourselves into a hole" with high standards only to wish we'd taken it easy or started delegating earlier on.

      I agree that Abdul's character shows the most foresight and discretion, which makes his undeserved punishment all the more horrific. Could his responsible and observant qualities be the result of trying to balance his parents' more undesirable traits?

      And I love the honesty in your first paragraph. I definitely said "Yes, me too" to your admission of being an egotistical introvert :) -- which makes it harder but so much more important for me to live out Philippians 2:3-4. "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others." Whew, it's so hard to live by the expectations of Jesus--to be holy, to be a blessing--but that is the life He Himself exemplified and works in us to emulate.

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