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ChatChat - Claudia Cragg

Sep 30, 2021

"'I came to see the mountains as an outpouring of our modern lives,' Roy writes, 'of the endless chase for our desires to fill us.' Readers of Behind the Beautiful Forevers will be drawn to this harrowing portrait." — Publishers Weekly

Claudia Cragg (@claudiacragg) speaks here with journalist Saumya Roy about her new non-fiction work, Castaway Mountain

All of Mumbai’s possessions and memories come to die at the Deonar garbage mountains. Towering at the outskirts of the city, the 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 re-using, recycling and re-selling.
Among them is Farzana Ali Shaikh, a tall, adventurous girl who soon becomes one of the best pickers in her community. Over time, her family starts to fret about Farzana’s obsessive relationship to the garbage. Like so many in her community, Farzana, made increasingly sick by the trash mountains, 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. Mumbai is pitched as a modern city, emblematic of the future of India, forcing officials to reckon with closing the dumping grounds, which would leave the waste pickers more vulnerable than ever.
In a narrative instilled with superstition and magical realism, Saumya Roy crafts a modern parable exploring the consequences of urban overconsumption. A moving testament to the impact of fickle desires, Castaway Mountain reveals that when you own nothing, you know where true value lies: in family, community and love. 




Saumya Roy is a journalist and activist based in Mumbai. She has written for Forbes India magazine, Mint newspaper, Outlook magazine,, and Bloomberg News among others. In 2010 she co- founded Vandana Foundation to support the livelihoods of Mumbai’s poorest micro entrepreneurs by giving small, low interest loans.

She has received fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center, Blue Mountain Center, Carey Institute for Global Good and Sangam House to write this book. She attended a conference on environmental humanities at KTH, Stockholm in 2017 to share her research, and contributed a chapter to Dharavi: The Cities Within/ (HarperCollins, 2013), an anthology of essays on Asia’s largest slum.

Roy was a fellow of the National Foundation of India in 2012, and has Masters Degrees in journalism from Northwestern University and Mumbai’s Sophia College, where she teaches magazine writing.