In parts of Southeast Asia (India, Bangladesh and Pakistan in particular), there’s a horrendous procedure that involves the purposeful disfigurement of the heads of male children so that when they’re sent out to beg in the street, people are more likely to give them money out of pity. This is a form of organized beggary where a handler works these so-called “rat boys” in a similar manner to that of a pimp working his whores.

The Rat-boys of Karalabad by Zulfiqar Rashid is a work of fiction that details this situation from a very interesting perspective:

The book tells the story of a young man named Omar who, unlike the "rat boys," is living a life of privilege at “the shrine” in Karalabad (also fictional). Here, he is being groomed to become the shrine’s next Pir (leader).

This is all fine and good with Omar when he’s very young, but as he grows older, he realizes that he is only living at the shrine because he was taken from his parents as a toddler. Upon this epiphany, Omar wants only to find his parents.

Eventually, resentment of the situation and the inherent hypocrisy of how life is lived in the shrine (one of the things he’s taught is that it’s expected of him to mistreat and even kill rat boys) festers within Omar until he’s mad enough to consider murdering the current Pir.

While Omar is trying to sort all this out, he comes to the horrifying realization that when it comes down to it, he’s been disfigured (if only mentally and spiritually) for someone else’s purpose, just like a "rat boy."

Deep thinkers will draw plenty of corollaries here, but those just looking for a good story will be satisfied as well.
Grade: B