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Mountain Tales: Love and Loss in the Municipality of Castaway Belongings

By Saumya Roy

Saumya is an author, journalist, and micro-finance entrepreneur based in Mumbai. Saumya completed her residency at the Bellagio Center 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:

“I came to Bellagio and began shaping all of my research into a deeply human story about the impact of waste on lives in Mumbai. I remember sitting at my desk overlooking the picture postcard-like lake, hills and neatly trimmed gardens and writing about accidents, illnesses, early deaths and along with some joyous occasions at the garbage mountains.”

“There was a section I first wrote at Bellagio on a life-threatening accident that a waste picker suffered at the garbage landfill in Mumbai. Risa Lavizzo Mourey, a celebrated doctor and healthcare leader, was a resident with me, and she sifted through the medical records I had recently obtained. We both felt overwhelmed as she explained the injuries the girl had suffered to me. I read through my interviews and documents that brought to life how dehumanizing lives on garbage landfills can be and began writing about it. Fellow resident, Kiran Desai, talked me through so much about writing with depth and emotion.”

A Quote from Mountain Tales:

“From high up on the next peak they could see the vertiginous trash mountains curve around them and stretch out into the distance. Together the hills curled like a long sliver of crescent moon. Across a broken wall, and dug into the mountains, were shrunken homes made of cloth scraps, plastic sheets, torn saris, soggy bamboo poles, and metal sheets full of holes. On the outer edge a shimmering creek arched around the mountains. The creek ran into the Arabian sea, which rimmed the island city of Mumbai. Ragpickers such as Farzana called the garbage mountains khaadi, the Hindi word for creek. No one quite knew where the name came from, but standing high on a mountain clearing, you did feel as if you were floating in an undulating and smelly sea of garbage that faded into an unending expanse of glimmering blue sea in the distance.”


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.

Explore More

In a feature of the book, Vogue India asks, “Is Saumya Roy’s ‘Mountain Tales’ one of the most important books of the year? Read Saumya’s interview.