13 June 2014

The Six Spellmakers of Dorabji Street by Shabnam Minwalla

Encore please

I read somewhere that Shabnam Minwalla had written a ‘charming’ book, and pondered for a while on how the well-meant adjective could easily be construed as patronising. Anyway, that was the word that led me to read this book – and I did indeed find myself charmed.
The six spellmakers are school-going children who live in a Bombay building, one that was built around the time of Partition by someone who left his home, crossed the new border and settled on Dorabji Street, Colaba, in privileged South Bombay. Since then, the building has changed names and a few residents, but the little garden with its two lovely, climbable bimbli trees remains.
As an adult reading a children’s book, I admired its language and plot, its distinct characters, and the many authentic descriptions and episodes, through some of which life-values are subtly conveyed. I liked the spectrum of children’s feelings encountered as the narrative proceeds, creating awareness and inviting empathy. I enjoyed the book design and its apt and elegant, evocative illustrations. And I loved the idea that Colaba (which happens to be one of my adopted native villages) has a garden in which the leaves are not coated in Bombay's characteristic grime.
I smiled through every page of this book, and yesterday, reading in the Local between Churchgate and Andheri, realised with embarrassment that I was laughing aloud at the spellmakers’ antics. At an emotional level, this book did to me what others like The Magic Faraway Tree, The Secret Garden, and Alice in Wonderland had done in their time, many-many years ago, and I felt sorry when I’d turned the last page and had to reluctantly put it down. In fact, I felt myself not just charmed but enchanted, and maybe even enraptured, and look forward to more about Nevi, Sarita and the others.