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Maybe it’s the pessimist in me, but looking at the title, the first thing that came to mind was the garbage hills of Delhi. You know, those unsavoury mounds at Ghazipur, slowly inching towards the sky with every passing year. The idea seemed too frightful for a children’s book, so I corrected course. Perhaps they meant the Sahyadris, that verdant ark of biodiversity trailing along the Deccan?
Turns out, for a dreamy picture book in 2020, you don’t need to escape the city. Balancing urban realities—migration, lack of greenery, the howling of cars, trains and buses—with a child’s innate curiosity, The Mountains of Mumbai reflects on a warm conversation about perception and optimism between two little girls on a walk.
Veda is the resident Mumbaikar, teasing Doma, her friend from Ladakh, about what really qualifies as a mountain. Do they have to be rugged, ‘brown triangles’ like in postcards? Can’t anything tall, with a view of its surroundings and its culture, be enough? Doma, the polite skeptic, doesn’t think so. Especially when you miss out on cultural heritage like the Hemis Tsechu festival.
The relaxed banter and upturning of childhood schema is adorable, and reminds us a bit of Ghibli friendships and the stubbornness of The Little Prince. As does the delightfully nostalgic artwork, a mix of watercolours and forgotten moments.
As the girls are towed along by Veda’s mother, the background sees busy markets, cheerful security guards and children waiting at elevators after afternoon rounds of cricket. The last one managed to remind me of after-school games back home, when we’d end our day with ice lollies and a bit of mischief. Always a good sign.
This book is a breezy introduction to everything Mumbai, from dabbawalas to vada pav, local train patris to bhel, with actual views of rooftops and Marine Drive thrown in. I loved the minimal text—colour-coded, so you don’t get confused on who’s saying what—and the watercolour panoramas of the city’s architecture. It makes great use of wide spreads, and when laid out, could even be something to pretty up the bedroom wall.
Effortless, non-preachy and with just the right hint of cultural tidbits, this book is a sweet buy to stir up some childhood wonder.
The Mountains of Mumbai is a children’s hardbound picture book published by Karadi Tales. Priced at Rs 449, it has been written by Labanya Ghosh with art by Pallavi Jain.
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