On hot Ahmedabad days in his childhood, Bharat Vaghela and his older brother Lalit would spend their mornings scavenging through mountains of rubbish outside their home in the slums of Ramapir no Tekro. The boys would search for two pairs of slippers, most often mismatched and too big, dragging their small feet down with each noisy step. Clop clop clop.
“I was 11-years old,” Bharat recalls. “We needed something to protect our feet from the burning ground while we walked around and polished shoes for money.”
When the brothers would board the bus to return home after a day of boot polishing, they would kick their mismatched sandals off the moving bus and sprint home on their smarting soles, not wanting their mother to see their impromptu footwear.
As Bharat describes episodes from his youth, his expression is sad; his tone, hesitant. The 25-year-old is now married and working to support his wife and mother, but part of him is still lost in the tragedy and disappointment of his childhood.
Around the time Bharat and his brother used to go boot polishing, they were connected to the Gandhi Ashram-based NGO, Manav Sadhna. In 2001, Bharat was given the opportunity to take part in EKTA, the dance and drama performance produced by Manav Sadhna, which planted the seeds for the EKATVA journey. During his experience in the EKTA project, which means unity, Bharat realized his love for dance.
“With dance, I open up my heart completely. It is my passion,” he says.
EKTA was a critical time in his life. It shaped Bharat’s dream to become a professional dancer and choreographer. But it was also littered with setbacks and heartbreaks.
Throughout his childhood, Bharat’s father had drunk heavily. His persistent alcoholism turned him sickly and weak, putting a mental and financial burden on his family. Bharat describes how one day after coming home from EKTA practice, his mother received a phone call that his father had been in an accident and his health was very poor.
“Pappa had fallen down while he was drunk, and broke his hipbone,” Bharat explains, tears welling in his eyes.
He required an expensive operation, for which his mother was forced to take out loans from their neighbors. Even after operating, Bharat’s father was never the same. He was bed-ridden and suffered from tuberculosis.
“He was my best friend,” Bharat says. “No one in the world has a better personality than my father. He may have drank, but he was not a bad person.”
Meanwhile, Bharat’s spot in the EKTA project was in jeopardy. Bharat admits that as a child, he was often angry and stubborn, especially as the stresses of his father’s health built up. These qualities nearly cost him a place in EKTA, when his mentors at Manav Sadhna were disappointed in his behavior.
Yet they took a gamble, keeping Bharat in the show despite his sometimes-poor habits. When Bharat came home from EKTA practice on his 15th birthday, his father, very sick at the time, was beaming.
“When I walked in, he told me that a gift had been delivered for me that day. It was my passport.”
Bharat’s father supported him fully in EKTA and in his love for dance. Unfortunately, he never got to see his son go abroad and pursue his dream. Bharat’s father passed away in November, just four months before EKTA and the 14 Manav Sadhna slum children were scheduled to leave for their tour in the U.S.
As the EKATVA journey is now reaching a climax in preparation for another tour abroad, Bharat’s life is going through a tragically familiar pattern of uncertainty. As his mother’s health has been deteriorating for the past several months, he is struck by memories of EKTA, and the burden felt by his family with his father’s passing.
“If Mummy is not here, I feel like there is no hope for us,” Bharat says. “She held us together after Pappa died.”
Bharat’s sentiments toward EKATVA are mixed. He is grateful that God has blessed him with this opportunity to learn how to teach dance and to choreograph. But when he watches the children dance at practice, his heart burns.
“I’m not a kid anymore. I don’t know when my dream to become a great dancer will come true,” Bharat says. “Seeing these kids in EKATVA makes me think back to EKTA. I wonder if my time has already passed. Will I ever get to fulfill my dream?”
Although Bharat’s story has been a rollercoaster of frustrations, with his family, his marriage and Manav Sadhna, he recognizes the blessings that have appeared during dark times. Had Manav Sadhna not invested in the potential they saw in Bharat’s personality more than a decade ago, he would not be in the position he is today – serving children in the slums with his talent and passion for dance. Through his commitment to these children in the EKATVA project, Manav Sadhna and his mentors are committed to seeing Bharat advance in his career, life, and journey.
Whatever hurdles he may face going forward, if he walks with truth and faith, the NGO and volunteers involved with EKATVA are there to support and help him walk the steps toward his dream.