Bellagio Library/

Castaway Mountain

by Saumya Roy

Saumya Roy is an author, journalist, and micro-finance entrepreneur based in Mumbai. Saumya completed her residency at The Bellagio Centre in 2017. After spending nearly a decade investigating an undersung community living in a landfill in Mumbai, she used her residency to translate that fascination into a book.

A few words with Saumya

“By the time I got to The Bellagio Center in August 2017, I had my different pieces—colonial and court records, interviews, freedom of information documents. I thought I’d lock myself in my room, but the thing about Bellagio is it’s magical. I met Risa Lavizzo-Mourey—former head of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in the US, and an expert in childhood malnutrition and poverty in African-American communities. She helped me deconstruct some medical records, sitting together on that beautiful terrace. Booker Prize-winning author Kiran Desai and I would go on walks to get ice cream and talk, and they were some of the most precious conversations about writing I’ve ever had.”


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 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. 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.

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.

Explore More

Listen to Malcolm Gladwell talk to Saumya Roy on the Rockefeller Foundation podcast, Solveable, about using micro-financing to eliminate poverty amongst marginalized groups.

If you would be interested in collaborating with Saumya you can connect with her on LinkedIn.