Written from the heart
Mujeres de Bombay, a book by Spanish journalist and activist Jaumes Sanllorente, weaves in narratives of social injustice through the lives of seven women from Mumbai's slums
It is funny how, being born and raised in Barcelona, when I land at its airport, I have a neutral feeling. But when the pilot announces that we are landing at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, I say to myself 'I'm home'."
Shuttling between two countries for over a decade, Spanish journalist Jaume Sanllorente, 42, doesn't feel like a tourist in Mumbai. Moved by the condition of children raised on the streets while on a vacation in India in 2003, he founded Sonrisas de Bombay or the Mumbai Smiles Foundation (MSF) in 2005, a charitable organisation that works with disadvantaged communities in the city through advocacy projects and offers support to survivors of human trafficking.
Whose accounts he has shared in the book
Then, he wrote a book, named after the organisation, in which he penned a testimony of his transformative journey of settling down here, and eventually came out with more titles before hitting a dry spell in 2012. And a little over a year ago, he picked up his pen again.
In August last year, Sanllorente wrote Mujeres de Bombay (Women of Bombay) in Spanish, exploring the contrasts of the city through the lives of women from the slums he has worked with. Only this week, the book has been released in Chile. The process of writing and research was easy for Sanllorente. The stories are based out of Marol, where MSF's office used to be situated, as well as Kamathipura, from where they run projects.
"Each chapter is a tribute to the women I have met or worked with during these years. In some cases, I have used their real names. In others, I have protected their privacy. In every chapter, I describe their lives, their fight, and their families. At the same time, I still needed something to connect the chapters in the book. And here is where I introduced, as the main story, a chapter on what happened in the organisation a few years ago, when one of the kids named Priyanka disappeared," he shares, adding, "Some of my books are written from my mind, but this was written directly from the heart. And the reader feels it," he tells us, summing up the response he has received so far.
When we pass on an excerpt of the book to another city-based Spaniard, Patricia Amor, her thoughts mirror the author's. "He crafts the image of Mumbai for a foreigner, and talks about the women who sustain the whole economy while weaving in narratives of patriarchal society through social issues such as dowry, domestic abuse and child marriage among others. His literary style is straightforward and he writes with a lot of love. He isn't writing like an expat; he is very much a part of the city and it all feels very real," she tells us.
Sanllorente maintains that the prevailing injustice is the fuel to keep working. While he navigates through issues of gender in the city, we ask him how he approaches writing women-centric narratives — a challenge with most male writers. He settles on a clear-cut response. "The first step is to be humble and aware of your limits, and in this case, being a male is one of them. If you are clear with that, the rest comes easily at the time of writing."
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