#DesiCraftChat: Saumya Roy on writing about real-life characters and their trauma

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Hello and welcome to Episode 40 of Desi Books—news and views about desi literature from the world over. I’m your host, Jenny Bhatt. Thank you for tuning in.

Today, in the #DesiCraftChat segment, we have Saumya Roy, who has a debut nonfiction out this month titled Castaway Mountain: Love and Loss Among the Wastepickers of Mumbai. In this conversation, we talked about how she avoided some of the expected clichés when writing about Mumbai’s slums, how she did her research, how her usual journalism work and this book are different, her literary influences, and more.

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#DESICRAFTCHAT WITH SAUMYA ROY — INTRODUCTION

Saumya Roy is a journalist and social entrepreneur based in Mumbai. In 2010, she co-founded the Vandana Foundation, a nonprofit that provides microloans to entrepreneurs in Maharashtra. Soon, she began lending to the wastepickers of Deonar, discovering their secret world and intrepid lives, and began chronicling them. She has written for Forbes India, Mint newspaper, the Wall Street Journal, and Outlook magazine, among others.

Castaway Mountain: Love and Loss Among the Wastepickers of Mumbai is a modern parable exploring the consequences of urban overconsumption and environmental pollution. Towering at the outskirts of Mumbai, the Deonar garbage mountains are covered in a faint smog from trash fires. Over time, as wealth brought Bollywood knock-offs, fast food, and plastics to Mumbaikars, a small, forgotten community of migrants and rag-pickers came to live at the mountains’ edge, making a living by reusing, recycling, and reselling.

Among them is Farzana Ali Shaikh, a tall, adventurous girl who soon becomes one of the best pickers in her community. Like so many in her community, Farzana becomes increasingly sick from the the trash mountains and is caught up in the thrill of discovery because, among the broken glass, crushed cans, or even the occasional dead baby, there’s a lingering chance that she will find a treasure to lift her family’s fortunes. As Farzana enters adulthood, her way of life becomes more precarious. In a narrative instilled with superstition and magical realism, Castaway Mountain reveals that when you own nothing, you know where true value lies: in family, community, and love.

On a personal note, I grew up in 70s and 80s Mumbai less than 15 miles from this particular landfill. But I never knew the long history, stretching to precolonial times, that Saumya has researched and written about here. Nor did I, as a middle-class child, understand the terrible damage caused by such landfills to those who depend on it for their livelihoods. There have been many books, fiction and nonfiction, about Mumbai’s slums. What makes this one stand out for me is that it’s been written by someone who has not only lived and worked with the people described here but has also invested time and effort trying to disentangle some of the the government policies and legal challenges they’ve had and are still dealing with.

And now, here’s Saumya.

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#DESICRAFTCHAT WITH SAUMYA ROY

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You’ve been listening to episode 40 of Desi Books—news and views about desi literature from the world over. I’m your host, Jenny Bhatt. Today’s #DesiCraftChat was with Saumya Roy, who has a debut nonfiction out this month titled Castaway Mountain: Love and Loss Among the Wastepickers of Mumbai.

Episode 41 will be up shortly. Follow on Twitter @desibooks, Instagram @desi.books, Facebook @desibooksfb. Tag the accounts if you have requests or suggestions. Email at desibooks@desibooks.co. And please go to the website if you’d like to sign up for the free, weekly newsletter. That’s desibooks.co.

Stay healthy, keep reading, and write well.

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A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats.™
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