All of Mumbai’s memories and castaway possessions come to die at the Deonar garbage mountains. And among these vast, teetering piles of discarded things – medical waste, rotten food, old clothes, broken glass and twisted metal – a small, forgotten community lives and works.
Scouring the dump for whatever can be resold or recycled, waste pickers also mark the familiar milestones of babies born, love found, illnesses suffered and recovered from. Like a mirror image, their stories are shaped by the influx of unwanted things from the world outside. But now, as Deonar’s toxic halo becomes undeniable, a change is coming. And as officials try to close it, the lives that the pickers have built on the Mountain seem more fragile than ever.
Saumya Roy spent more than eight years entangled with the Deonar mountains and their denizens, watching the lives and businesses of four families unfold in their shadow. Most of all she watched a teenager, Farzana Ali Shaikh, grow into a life that seemed as unlikely as the mountains, rising precipitously with the desires that had flickered and died in the city. This book is Farzana’s story.
‘If you read one book about India, read this one.’ – Geeta Anand, Pulitzer Prize-winner and author of The Cure
‘Mountain Tales is a remarkable feat of immersive reporting and story-telling, a deeply-felt exploration of ideas, and a gripping chronicle of the fates of the garbage-pickers of Mumbai … I loved this book.’ – Suzy Hansen, author of Notes on a Foreign Country
‘Roy has a journalist’s unflinching eye, a poet’s talent for detail, and a radical sense of empathy … a stunning achievement.’ – Kiran Desai, Booker Prize-winning author of The Inheritance of Loss
Saumya Roy is a journalist and activist based in Mumbai. In 2010, she co-founded Vandana Foundation to support the livelihoods of Mumbai’s poorest micro-entrepreneurs; through this she met the community who depend on Deonar. Her writing has appeared in Forbes India Magazine, wsj.com and Bloomberg News among others, and she has contributed a chapter to Dharavi: The Cities Within (HarperCollins, 2013), an anthology of essays on Asia’s largest slum.