Interview with Labanya Ghosh
Since Labanya Ghosh cannot draw so much as a line, she paints with words instead. She lives in Mumbai, the greatest city on the planet, where she writes copy for ads and teaches school children by way of work. Her new book with us is The Mountains of Mumbai. We talk to her about the book, and her love for this city.
What made you want to write this book, how long was the process and where did the idea come from?
The idea for this book came to me while walking down the dusty streets of Leh. I had just bought a little Ladakhi doll as a souvenir for Veda, a very dear friend’s daughter. And I wanted to write a little story to go with it.
I don’t recall the actual writing process being very long. Maybe a week, but yes, the iterations and technical discussions were spread over few months.
We are going through a crisis. Children are anxious about their futures and the planet. I wanted to write something that empowered young readers to find hope and beauty in the chaos around them and realise that they can bring about change.
What is it about Mumbai in specific that makes it (according to your bio) ‘the greatest city on the planet’?
I found love, home and my work here. The city is a great equaliser. It’s inclusive and anonymous at the same time.
What’s your least favourite thing about Mumbai?
I think my least favourite thing about Mumbai is its obsession with Delhi!
I have lived in Delhi for eighteen years, Calcutta for four and Mumbai for the last sixteen and half years.
Why did you choose to say something positive about a big city? What do you think about the often-used comment about them being too busy, too commercial and too impersonal compared to a small town?
I am a big city girl. I love the grit and the dirt. And I don’t see the point of the all too familiar negative commentary. The question really is: if a big city is too commercial, noisy, busy, impersonal and there’s no other choice than to live in one, what steps are you taking to bring about some change? Perhaps, we should first acknowledge what works for us in a city and then slowly find ways to improve things that don’t. I am now sounding like a cognitive behavior therapist! I think it’s important to understand the history of a city, get involved in community work, maybe skip the movie and go to the nearest park. Spark connections and you might be pleasantly surprised.
What do you think of Pallavi (the illustrator’s) work? What do you most like about it?
Gasp! It’s breathtaking. It’s unmistakably Bombay. I think what I like, sorry, love the most is her attention to detail – everything was covered right down to the tiles of the old art deco buildings.
Is there anything in particular you wish the readers of your book would take away?
It’s simply that if you change your gaze, the world will change for you. And if you try even a little bit you will be able to forge beautiful connections wherever life takes you.
Is this your first time writing a book for children? Did you have to pay attention to your writing/language in a special way because of the age group of your readers?
Yes, it was. I have created content for children before and I have been teaching for a few years now and through these experiences I knew that my language couldn’t be ‘teach-y’ or patronizing. I had to write knowing that my audience is super intelligent, creative and capable of making all kinds of connections and interpretations.