Set in the boisterous heart of modern Mumbai, Ajay and the Mumbai Sun by Varsha Shah, tells the story of budding journalist, Ajay, and the ambitious 12-year-old’s attempt to create a newspaper with his pals. Warnings that news seekers have defected from old-school print to mobile phone turn out to be the least of their worries, as this bunch of lionhearted crusaders find themselves reporting on the corrupt underbelly of their beloved city and battling to save their slum-dwelling community. In 2022, is the pen (or printing press) still mightier than the sword?
Ajay’s most cherished possession is a gold-nibbed fountain pen, the only thing bequeathed to him by his missing mother (unless his burning desire to become a journalist owes something to his genes). We’ll never know, because Ajay’s mother abandoned him as a baby. Left on a train station platform, Ajay grows up with other forsaken ‘railway boys,’ and slum children, his spirited bunch of friends including Yasmin, a child labourer in a garment factory, and Vinod, who slaves in a restaurant, illegally discriminated against because he is an ‘Untouchable.’ Their working lives are drudgery but each child has a creative or practical gift to offer, and when Ajay comes across an ancient unwanted printing press, they have almost everything they need to launch their newspaper. All that’s missing is an exciting first story to hook potential readers.
Ajay’s break comes when he discovers a surreptitious plan to raze their slum neighbourhood to the ground. A web of local politicians and business leaders are in cahoots to make a profit at any cost, their dishonest scheming affecting almost every aspect of the community’s lives, including a perilous disregard for safety at Yasmin’s factory.
Shah’s pacy, consciousness-raising tale brilliantly evokes Mumbai’s vibrant sights, sounds and aromas. She also offers an endearingly failproof newspaper selling point, the thing ‘…that everyone in India cares about, more than anything else.’ Cricket!
A marvellous David and Goliath tale.
Ajay and the Mumbai Sun by Varsha Shah is published by Chicken House, 304 pages.