Surviving the Slums

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Slum Child by Bina Shah, book reviewBina Shah is one of those Pakistani writers in English who has made a name for herself outside Pakistan. She has written five books, of which Slum Child was first published in Italian as La Bambina Che Non Poteva Sognare, or The Girl who Could not Dream, in 2009. The English name of course, immediately evokes memories of Slumdog Millionaire, even though the two stories have very little in common. Slum Child is the story of 9 year old Laila who is growing up in Issa Colony in Karachi’s backwaters and who is, surprisingly a Christian. Laila’s mother works for a rich household and has remarried.

Laila, and her sick elder sister Jumana , are wary of their stepfather and without knowing it, Laila’s dreams are full of escape. When her mother goes to take an advance of her wages from her employers, Laila gets a glimpse into the privileged world of upper crust Karachi and when she discovers that her stepfather is involved in human trafficking takes flight to the home of the Ansaris.

Shah contrasts two different ways of life, finds the similarities between Christianity and Islam – both are religions ‘of the book’ but Christianity is regarded as being imperfect since it is older than Islam. She also brings in the religious fundamentalism that is insidiously infiltrating liberal homes in Karachi – Maryam the daughter of the house wears a hijab against her mother’s wishes and goes to Koran classes.

For an Indian reader there are few surprises to be found in Slum Child. The story and the descriptions are exactly what one might expect since slums on either side of the border are similar. Shah’s story covers Laila’s coming of age. Her language is simple and direct and she manages to bring Laila’s world to life, highlighting the problems that confront a little girl when she progresses from child to almost woman. One might of course point out that many of Shah’s descriptions are aimed at readers from the West who are unfamiliar with the abysmal poverty and overflowing drains of city slums. There are also unexpected Samaritans to be found in the slum like Haroon the Makrani, a rehabilitated heroin addict who adds a patch of lightness to the depressive gloom that surrounds most of the book.

Laila is a feisty survivor who ultimately finds freedom of a sort but not exactly the kind of happily ever after situation that Slumdog Millionaire offers.

Slum Child by Bina Shah
Published by Tranquebar Press in India


Buy book online
Buy book online Buy book online
Slum Child
by Bina Shah

One Comment on "Surviving the Slums"

  1. koshkha
    23/12/2010 at 12:19 Permalink

    Hi Anjanu
    Do you know of any online book stores in India that ship to the UK? I’d love to give this a read but it doesn’t seem to be available on the normal UK-based sites.
    Barbara

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Written by Anjana Basu
Anjana Basu

Anjana Basu works as an advertising consultant in Calcutta. In 2003, Harper Collins India brought out her novel Curses In Ivory. In 2004, she was awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship in Scotland where she worked on her second novel, Black Tongue, published by Roli in 2007. In February 2010. her children's novel Chinku and the Wolfboy was brought out by Roli. She writes features for travel magazines and reviews for Indian newspapers.

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