‘Resilience is Mumbai’s past, present and future’


Determined to showcase the city for children, two Mumbaikars decide to trace its history and lore in a fun book packed with trivia

Did you know that Leonardo da Vinci’s journal, Manuscript F, has “a mysterious note scribbled in it mentioning a map of Elephanta” or that Mumbai is home to two types of crows, the jungle and the common crow; or that almost 400km of Mumbai’s roads are dug up annually? If you’re looking for a book for children that introduces them to the maximum city, then Totally Mumbai: A City in a Book (Blue Spectacles) may just be right up your galli.

Written by Pereena Lamba and Miel Sahgal, the book traces the city’s history, acquaints children to its landmarks, and shares trivia and lore about Mumbai. And it’s packed with photographs, puns, and lots of information. Sahgal, a director at the Sanctuary Nature Foundation, said that Totally Mumbai was born out of a need to share “the city as a whole, from nature to culture, history to arts” with their children. For Lamba, who has worked in advertisting and is a writer, Mumbai is a city full of her best memories. “It shapes my opinions and view of the world,” she said. Over email, the writers talk about their venture into publishing for children.

Packing Mumbai into 85 pages – how difficult was it?

Pereena Lamba: It was an incredibly hard task to sift through the collection of stories that we discovered. We had debates, discussions and some heated arguments on what to include. In the end, I think we chose the facts and stories that would grab the children’s attention. There were stories that we would have loved to put in, but thought that they appealed more to us as adults and perhaps less to children. Will use them for Volume 2!

What made you decide to self-publish?

Miel Sahgal: We were completely invested in the content and had an exceptionally clear idea of how we wanted it to be communicated. The advice we received is that self-publishing would give us the greatest autonomy over design and production choices, so we took the plunge. Blue Spectacles is a little entity the two of us set up to publish this book. The name came in a flash when were across the table from each other, hammering away on our laptops, coincidentally wearing almost identical blue spectacles.

The book is dedicated to your children and a reminder of the magnificence of the city. How resilient a future do you see for Mumbai?

PL: Mumbai is the ultimate survivor. I think it takes its knocks hard but has the gumption to pick itself up, dust itself off and get going again. We have seen this after many big events – blasts, natural disasters etc. but I think Mumbaikars do it on a daily basis too. Mums come to work even when children are ill, asking neighbours and friends to help out. People go back to business the day after a personal tragedy because they can’t afford not to. Kids finish final exams and perform in concerts the next day… it’s all in a day’s work for Mumbaikars. Resilience is Mumbai’s past, present and future. That is the lesson that I think our children will learn, appreciate and imbibe. I think that because of this, they won’t give up on Mumbai and will help make it a stronger city in the future.

MS: It is so easy to feel hopeless about Mumbai’s future. Heritage buildings are torn down, life-saving mangroves are hacked, the chasms of economic disparity widen, as do the roads… and yet, as you rightly say, all this can’t take away from the magnificence of the city. It’s difficult to imagine a resilient future with the current set of ambitions. But we do have hope that the priorities of our children’s generation will be different. The book is peppered with subtle stories of inclusiveness, of the stupidity of land ‘reclamation’, of how people live or travel, of the non-human inhabitants who share our space. And we believe that today’s kids who value things like clean air, sustainable transport, heritage conservation, rooftop gardening or public art will ensure a better tomorrow for the city when they are in charge. We all know what resilient cities of the future need to be like, and our hope is that the next generation will help Mumbai change course and steer towards that.

It’s not surprising that there’s plenty of wildlife and nature tucked into the book.

MS: It’s so important that children appreciate how lucky they are to be in a city that is home to wild leopards, crocodiles and deer. But more important is that we help enable a connection with nature in an everyday routine. Look skyward to spot a bird, pause for a moment with a butterfly, or even just touch the bark of a tree. In this city, we can all be very disconnected from nature, and this comes with a host of physical, psychological and spiritual consequences. To be able to highlight the existence of nature in the city, and celebrate it, was an important aim for us.

Any memorable moments while researching the book?

PL: Though it was research, we really had a blast doing it. There were so many unforgettable experiences that are going to stay with us forever. Like when we finally met our ‘Decision Devi’ in Worli and she lived up to all our expectations. Or when we went around knocking on strangers’ doors till we found the ‘lady with the key’ who opened the doors to the most stunning Chinese temple in Mazagaon. Or trying to convince our usually feisty sabziwalli to pose for a photo – she suddenly turned coy on us and even asked for a few retakes!

What are your favourite bits in the book?

MS: That’s a tough question – we love most of what we’ve put in there! Perhaps the pages we enjoy the most are those where history comes alive through real, personal stories. Like Fables of Fire about the Great Fire of 1803 and the Dock Explosion of 1944, or Swaraj in the City about the Freedom Movement. I also love the unusual ones, like the ghost stories in Boo!mbay, and the unexpected connections in Space and Time. We couldn’t include everything we wanted to in the book, but one consolation is that some of our favourite left-out facts and stories will still find a place in our upcoming series of talks and workshops with children. And who knows? Maybe an updated second edition!

The tree whisperer


Trees, writes Peter Wohlleben in his book, The Hidden Life of Trees, are social beings. They can defend themselves, share resources, and communicate with each other using “olfactory, visual, and electrical signals”.

In Ranjit Lal’s new book, The Trees of Medley Gardens (Red Turtle), they can talk your ear off. They will gossip, tease, dole out wisdom, and even play pranks on you. When Tadpole and her brother Vishwajit move with their family, they discover that the sacred grove of trees from the neighbouring Medley Gardens can talk to them. Soon they befriend the wise old Banyan Ustadji, the Peepul Princesses, and find out exactly what the Mango trees think of kids scampering up and down their branches, stealing mangoes. But the trees are hiding a secret and it all maybe unearthed if the owners of Medley Gardens decide to sell the place. It all comes down to Tadpole, Vish, and his friend Zafia to figure out what to do.

“The idea came about because I felt that trees were just taken for granted (and cut down at will) and ignored – way out of proportion to their worth, and considering what they do for us – and all of life,” said Lal, over email. Lal’s love for both flora and fauna is well-documented in many of his books, whether it’s The Tigers of Taboo Valley (Red Turtle), The Caterpillar Who Went on a Diet and Other Stories (Puffin), or Every Dog has its Tale (Scholastic).

Lal insists that he doesn’t talk to trees in real life and which is why he turned to fiction for that conversation. “Am nuts enough without actually having to go and have conversations with trees (nor do I hug them as some nasty ‘Rottweiler’ of an ant is sure to bite me in the armpits) so I made the kids do that in the story,” he said. “I think the most ‘memorable’ conversation [in the book] has to be the one where it is pointed out to Ustadji, that while he may be the grand old ‘tree of knowledge’ and a ‘keystone’ species blah blah blah, he and his ilk are still dependent for their survival on a minuscule wasp. Something we need to remember otherwise too.”

That is one of the key takeaways from the book – how everyone’s survival on this planet is inextricably linked with each other. “All you have to do is to is to take time out and think a little – and it’ll all become very clear how dependent all life forms are on trees and plants,” Lal explained. The children in the book realise that they can talk to pretty much any tree, flower, or animal. Sometimes it’s annoying because really some of the plants can be a bit of a sap like the hypochondriac Neems that are always whining. It can also be scary when they meet the dreadful Julifloraa that are armed to the teeth with spiked thorns. While at other times, they have some fabulous chats about life on planet Earth, whether it’s seed dispersal or events in history.

Lal manages to do all this without preaching, and at the same time he ensures that the reader is chuckling and guffawing through the book. “If I start yawning or nod off or start fidgeting while writing I know I’m being preachy and also of course totally boring,” said Lal, about his own writing. For instance, at one point, the mischievous (and pompous) grasses burst out in song, praising themselves, “Without us grasses, you won’t have bread! Without us grasses you’ll all be dead!” they then go on to talk about how they, the grasses, have taken over most of the land in the world – “You came, you planted, we conquered!” Food Security lesson 101.

Lal is concerned that children are more and more disconnected with nature today. “Yes, they’re less connected to nature thanks to the Internet, TV, video games, social (or rather anti-social) media etc,” he said. “They need to go out more – and not to malls! What gives one hope is watching kids play on and around trees, whenever they’re presented with the opportunity and their parents/teachers are not hovering around armed with hand sanitizers and having hysterics! I still believe if you leave a kid near a tree – give him/her some time and space and take away the smartphone etc – he/she will be halfway up the tree within the hour!” Honestly, after reading The Trees of Medley Gardens,that just be one side effect your children may end up with – climbing and talking to trees.

In fact, Lal points out that even grown-ups need to do the same. “We stop ‘talking to’ trees as we become adults because we think only kids should do so,” he said. “Actually you don’t have to talk to trees, you just need to sit beneath one, or on one and listen. We do too much talking and too little listening anyway!”

Why we need to talk about climate change


Kids, it’s time to sit your parents down and have THAT chat. Yes, that one. That life-changing one. Make sure your parents are comfortable, ply them with plenty of tea, coffee, or a beverage of their choice. Ask them to turn their mobile phones off, or at least keep them on silent. After all, talking about climate change isn’t going to be easy.

First, start with the basics. The climate is changing – it’s real. No matter what the politicians say. Or the news does not say.

Take them through the science – the greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide – that are being pumped into the air, how they are warming the atmosphere, trapping heat, melting ice caps, causing sea levels to rise, and so on and so forth. Now just because there’s an average rise in temperature doesn’t mean that the entire planet will warm equitably (Yes, see anticipating questions from the grown-ups already). It means that some places may get cooler and have longer winters, while others may see devastating monsoons. We are already seeing all of that happen.

Next, explain to them that we are living in the age of Anthropocene. Say it slowly – anth-ro-po-ceee-neeee. Elaborate that this means that human activity is accelerating climate change. Burning fossil fuels, pollution, deforestation all of that keeps pushing the temperature up.

Second, it’s exacerbating extreme weather conditions. Third, our cities are not resilient or adapting fast enough to these extreme weather conditions. We don’t have the infrastructures or the plans in place. We just do not.

If there’s some vociferous talk about “development” versus “environment – one of the most inane debates ever – remind them that extreme weather events leads to loss of human life and infrastructure. Which all racks up a bill that is heavy on our GDPs. We need clean air, drinking water and soil to survive, and that is just a basic truth. And also, vital to development.

And lastly, spell this out, repeat if necessary – we are children and we are not going to “save” the planet. Because the Earth does not need saving, she’s going to be fine. Plus, there’s homework to do and unit tests to mug up for. So, it comes back to the grown-ups who have the power to get their voices heard and at least show their dissent about what’s happening. After all, no child wants to inherit a planet stuffed with greenhouse gases and problems of this gargantuan proportions.

Here’s the thing – grown-ups are not talking about this. At least not enough. A friend said right on the heels of Mumbai’s floods, the teachers in her niece’s school did not think it was important to chat about what had happened and why. I am sure that many children must have exulted at the thought of no school the next day, but they must wonder, why is this happening time and again, and why are we not prepared for this. Let’s face it, if children don’t get answers to their questions, then they will find out for themselves. And perhaps they will be better equipped to help grown-ups understand what is happening.

I go to classrooms often to talk to children about my book So You Want to Know About the Environment. Increasingly I feel this constant worm of worry when I realise how little tweenagers and teachers understand climate change. One student told me that it’s when you go up a mountain and the air becomes thinner, that’s climate change. Another smart aleck told me it means the climate is changing. Well, yes. But it’s only when we begin talking about how relentless the last summer was or a particular flood, that they start nodding and realising that climate change is not something that’s happening in the Arctic regions or other far flung places, it’s occurring everywhere and impacting everyone. And all of us.

So, kids, have that chat. It’s time.

An Indian play struck a special connection with its young audience. Just look at these Post-It notes


An actor lies down on the almost bare stage of Mumbai’s Prithvi Theatre and wriggles like a fish. Another actor mimicks the gurgling of a river with fluid body movements, as Moyna, the protagonist, skips across the make-believe waterway. In the audience, a child gasps, mesmerised by the drama of a forest unfolding in front of her. This was six years ago at the opening of Gillo’s Kyun Kyun Ladki, a children’s play based on Mahasweta Devi’s book, The Why Why Girl.

At a time when children’s theatre was rife with loud comedy and slapstick scenes, Kyun Kyun Ladki was a play that stood out for its quiet, graceful reflection of a child’s innate curiosity. Mahasweta Devi’s story, published by Tulika Books, is about a tribal girl who is full of questions. As a note from the theatre company Gillo explains, “It is the story of Moyna and at the same time the story of so many children, all who always ask the question ‘Why?’ Performed through dance and movement, the play shows glimpses of their lives and of their minds.”

Now with the play nearing 50 shows, director Shaili Sathyu is preparing to retire it after a few more runs. “We initially planned the play for five shows, really because of the way [the] play was developed,” said Sathyu, over a phone call. “The actors had no idea of the entire play – they knew bits of it, and didn’t know how it came together…”

For the production, the cast and crew quizzed children and parents about the questions that kids often ask. “We took on the key questions,” said Sathyu, adding that they searched for different contexts for the same questions asked in the original story. “Why is the colour of the sky blue? Why do I have to work? Can fish talk? Any child in the world would have some of those universal questions in their mind.” But the play isn’t just about questions. It’s about the motivations and context that propel a child to reach a question, and then what happens in the ensuing conversation. Often these questions are dismissed by adults as annoying or awkward. But Kyun Kyun Ladki celebrates the questions and a child’s curiosity.

One reason Sathyu plans to retire the play is because the original cast is no longer part of the show (except for actor John Soans, who returns especially for the next run). Gillo’s adaptation of Mahasweta Devi’s story was a collective creation by the cast and crew that took four months in the making. “Every actor’s reflections added to the characters in the play,” said Sathyu. “One could say the ownership completely lies with the actors. This brings in a sense of conviction in what they are portraying and has to a large extent been the core of the play.” Sathyu added that a certain soul of the play gets lost if the actors don’t have ownership of it. “We want to leave this play with good memories, create work together with a new collective.”

In a 2011 review in the now-defunct Time Out Mumbai, this reporter wrote, “What’s fascinating is the lack of sets on the stage – the actors seamlessly transform from playing children to adults to animals and even a door, a pump and gurgling river.” The actors worked with Bharatnatyam dancer Hamsa Moily intensively to recreate scenes through movement, which became a spectacle on stage. Another goosebump-inducing moment is when the teacher in the play sings Safdar Hashmi’s poem “Kitaben”. The clear voice rings out across the hall, holding everyone from the children to the grown-ups spellbound. It is moments like these that make Kyun Kyun Ladki memorable.

Sathyu explained that their attempt has been to give space to a child’s voice through the play, and not what adults think what a child’s voice should be. Which is why, not all the narratives in the play have neat endings. “The parallel narratives are more like thought bubbles,” Sathyu said. “As you read stories, you get other thoughts, the mind goes into different thoughts, they evoke smell, memory. We were going into these thought bubbles. And it’s not important to find a closure on that.”

Before each show, Sathyu takes to the stage and welcomes the audience and advices the grown-ups against explaining the play to the children they are accompanying. “Children understand more than you realise,” she points out. And the audience – the children – seem to love it, going by the feedback the play has generated.

Sathyu said the play was well received by many friends in theatre who otherwise don’t like to watch plays for children. “We tried by not spoon-feeding children, and with the aim of respecting a child’s capacity to process a performance and make sense on their own,” she said. “We succeeded to some extent.”

After each show, Gillo keeps post-its and sketch pens for children to write their thoughts on. “I loved why Why Why girl the best,” writes Arushi; “I liked the book part. It was funny,” writes Yuvansh. Sathyu recalls a show in Pune in either 2011 or 2012, where a six-year-old came out with her mother and asked in Marathi, “Aai, tula kadle natak (Did you understand the play)? Should I explain it to you?”

“It’s these small reactions from children that are worth more than a thousand lukewarm responses from others,” said Sathyu. “This is what motivates us to continue planting more questions in children’s minds.”

Ten ways to observe World Earth Day


Happy Earth Day everyone! April 22 is celebrated across the world to remember the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970. Over time, it has become one of the many green days, on which we are besieged with pleas to save the planet and sharing breathtakingly beautiful photos of flora and fauna and talking about how there’s only one planet, yada yada yada. In keeping with the spirit of things, I just wanted to start off the celebrations with a checklist for our children. Here’s a list of things that our kids can definitely use for Earth Day.

1. Long walks in the park, when we can find them. Stopping frequently – not to check our mobile phones – but to examine a seed pod or a fascinating bug.

2. Stories that inspire and tales that remind us about the gorgeous planet we live in. And storytellers to write and draw them.

3. Clean-up drives, but ones attended by grown-ups as well. Why do children keep having to pick up their trash?

4. Broadcasts from Slooh, the online astronomy service, where NASA astronauts Stanley Love and Tracy Caldwell Dyson will share “what they missed most about Earth when they went into space, and how they felt to be looking down on our “pale blue dot.”

5. Clean, fresh air, water, food, soil, and you know, essential stuff like that.

6. A nature journal, and access to nature to observe and record it.

7. Logging on to NASA’s Adopt the Planet website and virtually adopting a piece of Earth as seen from space. They will even get an adoption certificate and get to mine Earth science data. More exciting, inclusive science.

8. Introduce them to a tree – let them befriend it, adopt it, even write a thank you card to it.

9. David Attenborough, Arati Kumar-Rao, Bittu Sahgal, Rachel Carson, Claude and Norma Alvares, Prerna Singh Bindra, Jane Goodall, Vidya Athreya, Ullas Karanth, Rohan Chakravarty, and many more inspiring people. Media outlets that give them space to be heard.

10. Climate-literate parents and peers.

And then, here’s a list of things our kids don’t need for Earth Day.

1. Policies that greenlight forest clearances and then speeches on going green, along with coffee table book launches on the many splendours of the planet.

2. Realms of newsprint dedicated to the colour green. Everything green – from the font to the masthead. But little coverage on environmental matters.

3. Advertisements that jump up and down and clamour to be heard because, well, their agency gave them a green makeover for the day. Especially for that day. You know, to win awards later in the day as well.

4. Brown paper packages and plastic bags (from all that shopping) that clog up our landfills. And all their contents, which scientists believe, may become technofossils (technology that will fossilize), and add a distinct geological layer upon the Earth.

5. RJ/ Broadcaster/Listicle-writer speak on how green is the new black.

6. Bleached coral reefs and species extinction.

7. Boring environmental education text books.

8. ‘Meri Desh ki Dharti’ on loop. No thanks.

9. Hyper-processed foods concocted in labs or ingredients flown half-way across the planet, racking up food miles. Local produce does very nicely.

10. Never-ending talks to children, as to how it’s their responsibility to save the planet. No, it’s not. They have lots of homework to do. It’s the grown-ups’ responsibility, and we are failing miserably. In fact, if we were in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, we’d get a T for Troll.

Before they grow up

As the sole maasi to a nine-year-old nephew, I am afforded certain privileges that few in the family are privy to. The nephew would call me in urgent tones from his Dubai home to discuss a paragraph in the sixth Harry Potter book, or to ask when I think he will get his Hogwarts letter. His mother would shake her head in exasperation at the long distance call, as he whispered confidences about his classmates and discussed the latest books and games with me. I only see him a few times a year, and sometimes I get the feeling that he’s growing up like a weed, too fast for me to catch up.

It’s not only that every time I see him he’s about a head taller. He now inhabits a world that I am not always familiar with: the video games he plays, the YouTube channels he follows, and even the fact that he’s moved on to Alex Rider from Harry Potter! It was easier talking about The Gruffalo and the lives of adventurers, rather than the merits (what demerits?) of Minecraft. Suddenly, I was worried that maybe I was slipping from cool aunt position: at one point he thought I was a witch who went to Hogwarts and an explorer, rolled into one.

Since his nose is often buried in an iPad or another screen, I had a full-scale plan drawn up for when he visited Mumbai this year for his annual holiday: ‘Mission Explore Mumbai and Think Maasi is Cool Once Again’. From a leisurely hike in Sanjay Gandhi National Park to a museum day and taking a walk around Bandra marvelling at street art, I was ready with an itinerary.

Of course, I didn’t factor in on our city’s torrential monsoon; we spent most of those days cooped up at home playing Battleship and Jenga Quake. Much to my dismay, we ticked off something like one-and-a-half things from my itinerary. We managed to reach Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) from Andheri, but first made a beeline for lunch, because it took so long to get there. After being fortified by Suzette’s hot chocolate and crepes, we spent an afternoon muddling around the museum. The nephew tried on different turbans, made himself several block-printed cards, a roller press print, and a Lung-ta prayer flag, was equally fascinated and repelled by the bone jewellery in the Himalayan Art Gallery, and giggled at the size of some of the Mughal costumes.

That day, it took us four-and-a-half hours to get back home. To my surprise, he didn’t fret for a tablet (‘no screens’ was my one condition of taking him out). Instead, he spent the hours experimenting with some coffee beans he had taken from Starbucks and a bottle of water. He sniffed at the decoction he had created and made observations. I answered questions about Mumbai’s history and the sights we passed. The nephew drew a poop family tree in my notebook, while I met a friend for a quick cup of coffee, and then judiciously explained each family member to us. When I picked up my phone to message my sister, with a slight air of superiority, about the screen-free day and the value of boredom, the nephew pointed out that I was using my phone too much. I couldn’t help but make a comment about smart alecks, as I dropped my phone back into my purse.

Another day, we visited Trilogy by the Eternal Library, and I lost him to the world of books for some time.

One evening, we walked down to say hello to a friend’s dog. My sister is terrified of dogs, and the nephew hasn’t met too many in Dubai. But Dane is the gentlest dog I have met; he let himself be pet, and didn’t jump at the nephew, who is still a bit skittish around animals. He came back home announcing, “Dane is the best dog ever”, going on to give an embellished account of the play time to his nani.

We watched Howl’s Moving Castle and agreed that the hopping scarecrow was creepy enough to keep the lights on a bit longer that night.

On the penultimate day, my father had an appointment in Santa Cruz, so despite the crazy rain, we crammed into the car. My parents did their visiting, while my nephew asked if he could wait outside and look at the rain. Armed with a pair of umbrellas, he and I watched the rain fall all around us, pointing out the patterns that rivulets made on leaves and the way everything looked scrubbed clean. We made pretend-rain measurement tools with twigs to guess how much rain had fallen so far. He put out his hand and squealed with delight as the rain fell on his outstretched palm. We tore out pages from my notebook to make paper boats.

As we carefully set the first one in a puddle, I asked him if he’s ever sailed a paper boat. He thought carefully, and said no. We watched our paper boats wend their way through precarious roots, whirlpools, and bob across pebbles and leaves. A blue plastic wire became the Bermuda Triangle that the boats needed to avoid, while the nephew took on the role of on-shore captain. As the tiniest boat started to sink, the nephew let go of my hand, to raise his wrist to his mouth, as if talking into an imaginary gadget. He reported that the boat has been torpedoed by the enemy pirates.

For now, he wasn’t growing up too fast, for me.


On loving and hating Mumbai


There’s plenty to love about growing up in the madness of Mumbai, but lots to despise as well. I asked a few parents to share what they love and what they hate about bringing up their children in the city.

Rajesh Tahil works in the media and has three children aged 6, 11, and 15

What I love about bringing up my child in Mumbai

It’s home. They are growing up in a neighbourhood that we have lived in for decades. They are close to family, it’s great to see them grow up with aunts and uncles, and their dogs and cats (and fish).

It is a ‘big city’, so they have rich experiences, like visiting museums, music events and food festivals etc. And while these may not be of the best standards, they are certainly not dissimilar to what one would experience in any other ‘big city’.

What I hate about bringing up my child in Mumbai

The lack of open spaces, lack of clean air, too much noise. People generally drive like idiots, a basic lack of civic sense. And because of that, almost invariably “doing stuff”, which equals to spending money i.e. going for a movie or out for lunch rather than just walking or going to a park.

P.S. Also, no beef burgers and mediocre pizza.

Anita Vachharajani is a writer and has an 11-year-old child

What I love about bringing up my child in Mumbai

Growing up in Mumbai, as a single parent who worked two jobs, I never felt restricted in any way. I hope that sense of safety and freedom continues to stay around longer, so that my child can grow up feeling like her city is a safe one.

I enjoy the limited glimpses of nature that this city still offers. Like the squirrels and the birds that visit our balcony, the trees and the mangroves we get to see.

I like that Mumbai exposes my child to diverse people. There is no one language we all speak, no one food we eat, and no one set of gods we pray to. I feel that simply because Mumbai has, in a sense, fewer pretensions, it teaches you basic humility.

What I hate about bringing up my child in Mumbai

Mumbai doesn’t offer some things that I want for my child: like more open spaces, more access to nature, and stricter traffic rules and road safety. I think children need to play more, and it saddens me that in poorer neighbourhoods and ghettos, children have even fewer spaces to play in. But what I resent most is the diminishing greenery in the city. Everyone mourns the lack of trees, but no one objects to individual trees / groups of trees being cut, and that indifference is also peculiar to Mumbai.

Varsha Pawar works as a domestic help and has a 17-year-old child

What I love about bringing up my child in Mumbai

I love that Mumbai has plenty of opportunities, when it comes to colleges and job options, for my son. There’s so much that he can do here.

What I hate about bringing up my child in Mumbai

I live with my brother. Affordable housing is really difficult to find. If that was sorted, it would be a good place to live in.

Brian Rodrigues works in an IT company and has a 3-year-old child

What I love about bringing up my child in Mumbai

Being in one of the biggest metropolitan cities in the world, Mumbai offers you a plethora of options across all fields and avenues. Infrastructure is at an advanced stage in Mumbai.

You can find loads of institutions, be it for elementary or vocational education.

What I hate about bringing up my child in Mumbai

As we go ahead, bringing up a child becomes very competitive in nature. It almost gets them into rivalry mode at school or day care.

Vankshu Shah is an equity investor and has a three-year-old child

What I love about bringing up my child in Mumbai

It is a multi-cultural environment with a very active social and family life with wide exposure to languages and people.

What I hate about bringing up my child in Mumbai

It’s not a child-friendly city, it’s not easy bringing up a child amidst terrible pollution, and one of the biggest worries is safety. A lack of parks and good beaches are some of the other natural activities that a child misses out on. There is a terrible and expensive rat race when it comes to schooling and a very hectic study culture, denying a child the joy of childhood.

Shinibali Mitra Saigal curates children’s festivals. She has two girls, aged 10 and 4

What I love about bringing up my child in Mumbai

I love Bombay as a city because it lets you be. This is applicable not just to adults but children as well. This sense of freedom is a great thing to equip a child with. It’s also a city where a child can grow up without fear.

What I hate about bringing up my child in Mumbai

Alas, there really isn’t a lot for children to do. It’s not a children’s city. We have green spaces but we don’t do enough to lure children there.

We push indoor play areas but not Rani Bagh and Sanjay Gandhi National Park as zones for children to breathe and play in. In terms of just doing nothing yet having fun, Bombay isn’t your city. Here, it’s all about structure and that kind of breaks my heart

Taste of India in Yelahanka doubles up as an Art Gallery


Ten-second takeaway


Palak Paneer, Stuffed Paratha, and Kaali Dal


Sweet Lassi and Aam Panna

Winning for

Fresh, good food {reminiscent of Himachal and Delhi dhaba food}, reasonable prices, and art

What we ate

Recently, a British friend of ours came over for lunch and was a tad dismayed at the prospect of eating at the non-descript eatery Taste of India. With trepidation, she started to explain her gluten and lactose allergies to Amod Uncle, the proprietor and chef of the restaurant. He nodded solemnly and prepared a Besan Chilla {with a side of rajam}, solving her problem.

The food shines at Taste of India. Uncle, as he’s popularly known, shops locally and seasonally, preparing a range of North Indian dishes. The Palak Paneer and Adrak Gajar are always fresh, and go well with the right-off-the-tava flaky, Lachha Parathas. The Kaali Dal {with desi ghee} is just like what you’d get in a dhaba, as are the stuffed parathas, with an extra dose of butter. While there’s paav bhaji on the menu, go for the chaat instead – the sweet-and-spicy Dahi Puri is perfect for the summer. #LBBTip: If you find yourself hard-pressed to make a choice, ask Uncle to make you a plate with small portions.

What we drank

And to wash it all down, we recommend the sweet lassi or the seasonal favourite aam panna.

The DL on the ambience


Taste of India is housed in the same complex as the Yelahanka bus depot and is basically a room with an open kitchen and simple seating. Lunch times and weekend breakfasts see a bevy of Srishti School of Art, Design, and Technology students and faculty descending on Taste of India. Most open the fridge and help themselves to fresh lime juice or cold coffee.

Art attack

On most days, there’s an art show on display – in fact, their Facebook page introduces itself as an art gallery and Indian restaurant. Recently, it was a collection of 20 storefront photographs of  Taste of Indias from acoss the globe {you will pretty much find one in every country} and before that was The King and Prime Minister, where photos of Shah Rukh Khan hawking all sorts of products dotted the walls.

So, we’re thinking

Taste of India’s appeal is its food and its proprietor. Uncle is popular with Srishti students and faculty, so much so that he’s also the subject of a documentary project. It’s a restaurant that you can return to pretty much all the time.

Where: BMTC Bus Depot Complex, Yelahanka New Town

When: 9am-6pm

Contact: +91 9823039230

Price: INR 500 for two

Find them on Facebook here.

Pic credit: Nihaal Faizal


Play mats



Keeping kids occupied at mealtimes just got a tad easier thanks to these activity placemats

Restaurants often offer puzzle placemats to keep diners occupied while waiting for their order. Spot-the-difference puzzles, word games and number challenges serve as appetisers until the real food arrives. Now, entrepreneurs are creating interesting placemats that can keep the little ’uns occupied at the dining table at home as well.

My Mumbai (Rs 500) is a set of eight colouring placemats that introduces Maximum City to children. Perfect for children aged four and above, the black-and-white posters by Yellow Pinwheel Kids Project offer a slice of Mumbai’s life. In one of the placemats, commuters are seen wending their way around the city, passing through the sea link, boarding a local train, and hopping on board a BEST bus. Another one is crammed with the city’s people — street vendors frying vadas for vada pao, Bollywood actors, Koli fisherfolks, paan wallahs, and of course, the dabba wallas. And the third is a glimpse into festivities. The illustrations are done by Abhishek Panchal, who founded Bombay Pencil Jammers.

The placemats encourage children to explore their city with the help of trivia pull-outs. Young explorers will engage with Mumbai’s architecture, the diverse cross-section of its people, and understand its geography. There’s a DIY map of Mumbai, which children have to draw themselves — the map starts at Gateway of India and ends at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivali. “My Mumbai is targeted for an age group of four to 10. It seems wide but the activity is different for each age segment. The four to six-year-olds will possibly use it just for colouring, but older children will use it as a mapping exercise to discover their city,” said Shinibali Mitra Saigal, who created the activity kit along with Shivani Lath. The entrepreneurs are former journalists, while Mitra Saigal is the co-founder of Kahani Karnival, a Mumbai-based children’s festival.

The Mealtime series by BrownBox Toys (Rs 450) is another charming set of sticker placemats that offer a culinary tour of India, China and England. Each set comes with four posters of typical Indian, Chinese or English meals, with stickers of the food items. The series introduces toddlers to different cultures and helps them understand food habits across the world. For instance, Mealtime England has a poster for fish n’ chips, complete with stickers of tartare sauce, mustard, crisps, peas, vinegar, and other sauces and condiments. Toddlers paste the stickers on the brown paper illustration on the page, to learn what a complete fish n’ chips meal would include. Mealtime India has a range of samosa, thali, kebabs, and dosa and idli. The selection is a mix of familiar and new food, which encourages children to try new dishes as well. The idea is to spark curiosity in young minds.

Then there’s PoppadumArt’s adorable Chalkboard Puzzle Mats (Rs 390) with a range of shapes such as sheep, goats, and bunnies. The animal’s head detaches to become a coaster. Children can write on the mat with chalk, wipe it off, and then scribble again. Made out of medium density fibreboard with a foam backing, the placemat is easy to wipe and reusable, said Saanwari Gorwaney, who started PoppadumArt four years ago to make what she calls “happy things to make spaces happy and bright”. Gorwaney, who is now based out of Gurgaon, worked in advertising before she embarked on this online venture. Out of the three, the chalkboard puzzle mats are easily reusable when it comes to dealing with messy hands. Both Mealtime and My Mumbai would need to be laminated before they can be used as permanent placemats. Of course, they might just end up being displayed on the refrigerator as works of art instead.

To order My Mumbai, visit http://www.facebook.com/My-Mumbai-1701714190047560/?fref=ts. The Mealtime series can be ordered online on http://www.brownboxtoys.com/ and the Chalkboard Puzzle Mats on http://www.poppadumart.com.

Entrepreneurs are creating interesting placemats that can keep the little ones occupied at the dining table

Lightroom Bookstore: The City’s Best-Kept Secret for Kids


Ten-second takeaway

A veritable Narnia for children’s books.


A one-stop-shop for children’s books

The delight you feel when stepping into Lightroom Bookstore is comparable to what we think Lucy Pevensie might have felt when she crawled through the cupboard to reach the magical world of Narnia. You can’t help but be spellbound as you walk through the inviting space, surrounded by books and more books.

Aashti Mudnani started Lightroom in 2013, after dreaming about it for seven years. “From the beginning the idea was to have a handpicked selection, keeping books that we believed were good for our children to read,” said Mudnani. “Choosing books is quite an intensive task – we go over endless lists sent to us by publishers, online recommendations, friends’ book lists, reviews etc, to choose the books we keep.”

Go ahead, explore

Lightroom has a range of international and Indian books for children and young adults. Apart from the usual suspects such as Harry Potter, Julia Donaldson, and Percy Jackson, there’s The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard by Eddie Campbell and Dan Best, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, and Paper Planes by Dawn O’Porter. There are books published by Tulika, Hachette, Tara, Katha, Pratham, Duckbill, Red Turtle, Puffin, and Young Zubaan, selected by the team at Lightroom.

One wall looks like it belongs on the page of Brain Pickings, Maria Popova’s literary and cultural website. Here you will find displayed the gorgeously-illustrated Animalium: Welcome to the Museum by Katie Scott and Jenny Broom, Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell’s The Sleeper and the Spindle, and I’ll Be You and You Be Me by Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak.

We spent a fair amount of time on the floor perusing Knock! Knock! by Kaori Takahashi. Some of the Lightroom team members joined us in unfolding the beautifully-crafted book. When we gushed over The Giant Game of Sculpture by Hervé Tullet, they opened the book, which transformed into a DIY installation for budding artists. You can also buy notebooks, block stamps and DIY craft kits, apart from children apparel by Hidden Harmony and hand-stitched toys by Blue Mango. Lightroom also holds two events per month.

Why we love them

What makes Lightroom special is its people. Mudnani and her helpful team are knowledgeable and unobtrusive. Need a book for a ten-year-old who loves monsters, a birthday gift, or a first book for your toddler, they know just what you want. And they even smile approvingly if you confess that the book’s actually meant for you.

Where: 1, Lewis Road, Cooke Town

When: Monday to Saturday, 10.30am-6.30pm

Contact: 080 25460466

Price: INR 100 upwards

Find them on Facebook here.