Book Review: The Six Spellmakers of Dorabji Street
By Aruna Bewtra
One of my daughter’s complaints about the books in our local bookstore is the lack of stories set in present-day Mumbai. She says all the books are set in London, or New York, or California. While reading books is a great way to learn about different cultures and geography, it’s also important for children to read stories they can relate directly to their own daily lives.
“The Six Spellmakers of Dorabji Street” by Shabnam Minwalla is set in a cozy gully in present-day Mumbai. The story begins as a young girl, Nivi, and her family move into the gully. Nivi soon makes friends with the other children, and the girls begin sitting in a large bimbli tree to watch the neighbors’ comings and goings. However, when a neighborhood busybody decides that the children in the bimbli tree are a nuisance, she begins a campaign to cut down the tree. Now, Nivi and her friends must save their beloved tree.
The characters of the story are entirely relatable as present-day Mumbai preteens and adults. Children will all relate to the bumbling chowkidar policing their street cricket games, the salary politics between the aunties and their cleaners, and the busybody aunties constantly calling down to the street to tell the children to keep quiet. In addition, all of the settings are straight out of our Mumbai streets, including the local sweets shop and a fun fair with a bouncing castle.
One of the main strengths of this story for kids lies in its lesson that magic can happen anywhere, not just in storybooks or films. The children learn to spot helpful fairies among the face painters and astrologists of their neighborhood and to make magic spells using commonplace objects such as a ballpoint pen and mosquito bat. The black and white illustrations, by Svabhu Kolhi, add quirk and charm to the story.
This is an entirely appropriate story for kids who are younger, and up to preteens. For seven- to nine-year-olds, this book would be fabulous bedtime reading as many of the chapters are quite short. Nine-year-olds and above would enjoy reading this on their own. Gifting this book to visiting NRI relatives or friends would also be a great way to give children living abroad a taste of modern-day Mumbai . This book can be found widely throughout the city or online here.