Saumya RoyDec 30, 2021
Love and Loss in the Municipality of Castaway Belongings
Astra House 2021
In 2016, the city of Mumbai was blanketed in toxic smog. The source? Fires at the nearby dumping ground of Deonar: the country’s oldest. The Deonar fire became an embarrassment for Mumbai, coming right before an international expo meant to announce the city to international investors and business.
Law enforcement immediately blamed scrap dealers who lived alongside the landfill. The pickers are men and women–poor, sometimes very young–who comb the mountain for waste that can be resold: metal, plastic, cloth and, if they’re lucky, gold and jewelry.
Saumya Roy’s Mountain Tales: Love and Loss in the Municipality of Castaway Belongings (Profile Books, 2021) looks into the lives of a few of these pickers, as they try to survive among the mountains of trash, as government officials and judges squabble above them trying to figure out what to do. More of Saumya’s work on landfills can be found here.
In this interview, we talk about the trash mountains of Deonar, the families that live there, and how they navigate life on the fringes of one of India’s largest cities.
Saumya Roy is a journalist and activist based in Mumbai. In 2010, she co-founded the 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 India: 2013), an anthology of essays on Asia's largest slum.
Nicholas Gordon is an associate editor for a global magazine, and a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.