It’s good to come across senior journalists with a sense of humour and a soft spot for fantasy and magic. After all, the daily grind often blunts the mind to think beyond bylines and deadlines. With Shabnam Minwalla’s latest book, Six Spellmakers on Dorabji Street, there were no such concerns. More so since it was a children’s book.
Mumbai and the storybook
Starting off from the title itself, we were pleased that the city played an integral role, so we couldn’t help but begin with a query on why Indian children's book don’t tell stories about our surroundings, to which Minwalla replies, “This is something that has always bothered me. As a child all the books I read were set in distant, unattainable places — London, someAmerican small town, Avonlea.
I would beg my parents to take me to London so that I could meet Mr Pink Whistle and other fairies.” When she wrote this book, she was clear that Indian children should know and understand that there is magic and beauty in their cities as well. And that magic can touch lives “as much in nearby RadioClub as in a leafy English village,” she asserts.
Start a spell
Minwalla was a journalist for 10 years. She stopped working full-time after she had her three daughters. “I started to inhabit a different space from that of journalism. I spent a lot of my time, and still do, taking my children to classes, volunteering at school and wrapping birthday gifts.
I wanted to write about this world, and actually, started writing a murder mystery for adults,” she says. When asked about the inspiration behind Cosy Castle (the nucleus around where this story is set) and Nivi Malik’s adventures, Minwalla answers, “I was returning from an Open Day for an evening class that my daughter used to attend. There, a very stern teacher gave us a huge lecture — and I thought to myself. ‘What a dragon. She should be in a book.’ Suddenly, I thought about writing a book about a building filled with Mumbai’s eccentrics.”
Minwalla sat in her car, drew the building, and slowly, over the week, began to fill the apartments with different families and characters. Browse through the book, apart from the fascinating double-cover, readers will get more than a glimpse of the cast. “The book took about six months. I did it between the kids’ flu, concerts and between my freelance assignments. I enjoyed writing it, which is why I persisted,” she says.
Minwalla, whose favourite character in the book is Nivi, the protagonist, admits being a realist. She’s rarely read fantasy too. But soon, it became clear that the children could fight this particular battle with magic. “But at all times, I tried to keep the fairies and magic believable. You could meet these magical folks anywhere in Mumbai, and not look twice. Also, I was clear from the beginning that the children should fight their battle with just a little bit of magical help. It’s their determination and courage that wins the day,” she reminds us.