When Sanjay’s father was in second grade, his teacher slapped him on the hand with a ruler one day for misbehaving. He never went back to school. “Because I was afraid of being hit again, I missed out on an education. I want Sanjay to realize I am doing majoori (labor) work because I am uneducated”
Sanjay and his family live in Ram Rahim no Tekro, a slum area in Old Ahmedabadfamous for the communities of Hindus and Muslims that live side-by-side. Both his parents do majoori, and are desperate for their children to find a way out of their difficult and unstable lifestyle.
A few years ago, Sanjay began ragpicking to earn some extra income for his family, who were in danger of losing their home. He would go through mountains of rubbish in the slums around his home and collect enough scraps of paper to earn about 30 rupees per day.
“My neighbor’s son was ragpicking near the river once, and he got swept away,” Sanjay explained. “I was afraid something like that would happen to me, or that I would get kidnapped.”
The conditions were unimaginable and dangerous, especially for a 10-year old boy, but Sanjay continued ragpicking for several months to help his family.
“As a laborer, you can’t always expect the work to be pleasant.”
Sanjay’s parents hope that EKATVA will equip their son with the tools to build a lifestyle that is not based on hard labor. But it was not clear from the beginning whether Sanjay would be a good fit for this journey. Unlike the other children who were selected based on their potential as performers, strong academics and attitude, Sanjay does not particularly excel in any of these criteria.
He does not show natural talent as a dancer, and his schoolwork is poor. His mother describes him as absentminded, “When I send him to the market to buy five things, he will only come back with one,” she explained.
“It’s like things fly out of my mind when I need to remember them,” he says. This forgetfulness, in addition to his tendency toward mischief, made him an unlikely candidate for this demanding journey.
But although Sanjay’s qualifications seemed lacking on paper, he has demonstrated an impressive commitment to EKATVA. Everyday for over three months, he made the 40-minute bus trip across the Sabarmati River that divides Ahmedabad, to reach EKATVA practice after school.
“In the beginning, I was afraid that I would get on the wrong bus and end up in God-knows-where,” Sanjay said.
He has earned the trust of his parents, who do not hesitate to send him unaccompanied, and his teachers at Manav Sadhna, who have witnessed his street smarts and dependability.
Although the responsibility of travelling alone has not always been easy, Sanjay doesn’t mind putting in the extra effort.
“Bad things take no time at all to finish,” Sanjay says. “It’s the good things that take a long time and hard work. For good things, you have to sweat.”