Radha handed me Rubina Ali’s Slumgirl Dreaming: My Journey to the Stars saying it was a quick and interesting read, a semi-autobiography from one of the child stars of Slumdog Millionaire. She did warn me beforehand that it was no great work of literature, and I did get through it in a few hours. The font was huge and the typos abundant; there was a lot of Hindi in it that I didn’t understand. I suppose what surprised me the most was although Rubina lives in a slum in East Mumbai, she was never desperately poor. She grew up with a loving family (aside from her estranged biological mother) and until her father’s accident caused him to be unfit for work, she and her siblings were supported by her father and had enough to eat. Fame is, indeed, a double-edged sword, as it wasn’t until she had stayed in big hotels in America that she began to find the rats and cockroaches in her slum unbearable and yearn for a toilet in her own dwelling.
The writing is a curious mixture of the conversational musings of a ten-year-old and seems to have been transcribed by someone who speaks English about 80% accurately (not Rubina; having attended an English school at the behest of Danny Boyle, her English is improving but the book still lists two co-authors). Rubina is prudish about things like swimming suits (“very small clothes”) but the book doesn’t hesitate to call the sewers in East Bandra full of “shit!” She also mentions hijra and later children being sold into slavery. As a devout Muslim, Rubina and her family are charitable—“I have a better fate than many.” She approaches something like irony when she describes hotel guests in LA looking at her and her co-stars, swimming in a jacuzzi for the first time, as staring at “jungle animals.”
Among the many people she meets in her rise to fame, she loves Danny Boyle and calls him Danny Uncle. She loves ice cream, chocolate, pretty clothes, but not pizza. She’s heard of Bollywood but not Hollywood: “Do the Americans make lots of films?” she asks in LA.
It’s all a matter of perspective.