“When I started spending time with him, it became clear that Sunil had an extremely strong aesthetic sense that helped him through life. Moments of natural beauty were very important to him. For example, there were parrots on the other side of the sewage way, and some boys would climb up and capture the parrots and sell them at the market. Sunil felt so strongly that this was wrong. He thought the parrots should be left where they were so that everybody could hear and see them. Another time, he found six purple lotuses blooming on an airport wall and protected them, kept them a secret, so that no one could cut them down and sell them. These aspects of his character emerged over time from observation. I wasn’t going to get them through conversation. It’s one thing to have somebody talk about what they value in whatever language they have; it’s another thing to really see what they value. And with Sunil, after it became clear he had this sense, I could talk to him about it. I still asked questions, and a lot of them—endless questions if you ask some—but what works best for me is when I can observe something and then ask the person about that moment afterward.”

-Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Boo on looking past words and quotes to find more representative details. Read the whole interview for more on this and the moral dilemmas of reporting on poverty.

Boo spent three years reporting on life in Annawadi, a makeshift settlement in the shadows of Mumbai, India. Her book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, is out now.

From: Guernica.

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