Shabnam Minwalla’s “The Six Spellmakers of Dorabji Street” is a cocktail of dollops of friendship, a dash of magic and a smidgen of romance – shaken or stirred – here is a book that is sure to delight young girls everywhere. The book is set firmly in South Mumbai, but this is not the Mumbai of glitzy glamour and tinsel loyalties; this is the hidden face of South Mumbai where tree lined avenues lead to stately old buildings and multi-cultural denizens add spice to every life.
From the outside ‘No. 13, Cosy Castle’ looks like any other peaceful building on Dorabji Street – and just like every other peaceful building, the atmosphere within is fraught with tension and insecurities, the result of years of slights and fights, both real and imagined. The residents of Cosy Castle co-exist in a fragile balance of uneasy harmony that is thrown asunder with the arrival of Nivi and her family. Nivi is puzzled when she senses that the crustaceous Mrs. Katodia has taken an inexplicable and instant dislike to her. However, Mrs. Katodia’s eccentricities fade into the background when Nivi forges a friendship with like-minded Sarita. The two friends spend many happy hours talking, reading and doing nothing in their favourite spot atop the Bimbli trees that occupies place of pride in their building compound. Their bliss is shattered when the wily Mrs. Katodia joins hands with her ex-foe, the formidable Mrs. Braganza, and plots to axe the trees. The girls and their friends rapidly run out of options and more importantly, time, to save the Bimbli trees. Why is Mrs. Braganza so set against Nivi? Will Nivi and Sarita thwart the nefarious scheme of the combined forces of Mrs. Katodia and Mrs. Braganza? Will Nivi’s belief that fairies and magic will save the trees finally be validated? Read the book to find out.
Shabnam Minwalla’s strength is her ready sense of humour and her finely etched characterisations. For example, descriptions of the one eyed watchman on his blue rolling throne and Mrs. Braganza’s music class are hilarious. The author’s characterisations paint the players in shades of grey; Nivi is not above feeling a stab of jealousy when the handsome, crush-worthy Suraj pays attention to Sarita. Shabnam’s writing brings Mumbai to life – the setting here is not a bland background to the narrative, - it’s a living, breathing character that is an integral part of the story.
And finally, the superbly designed cover and black and white illustrations by Svabhu Kohli support the book’s ‘feel’ and add to the book’s appeal.