You might be fooled by his ordinary boy next door looks but he’s no ordinary man! Amin Sheikh has come a long long way from where he was; a 5-year-old runaway and a street dweller!
Yes! You read that right! This social entrepreneur and author is a true inspiration for all of us. Over the years, as an entertainment journalist, I have interviewed some of the biggest names in Bollywood but never have I been this keen and eager about speaking to someone like I did with Amin. Interviewing him has not only been a pleasure but also extremely inspiring.
Amin, for one, loves to talk and that made this interview even more interesting and easier. A thorough gentleman that he is, it’s almost impossible to believe that he spent most of his childhood all alone on the streets of Mumbai.
Here’s his story:
Amin ran away from home at the age of five not being able to bear the cruelty of his stepfather and his mother. “ My mom too was not good to me,” reveals Amin. He lived on the streets for a few days and found a job at a tea stall but that too did not last long being the tiny 5-year old that he was he broke some glasses and spilled tea while serving tea. He ran away from there too because he was scared that he would get beaten up. He then went on to live at the Malad station. There he saw kids singing and begging and he tried doing that too but he wasn’t happy so he decided to go back home but somehow could not find the courage to do so. He went back to the station only to find his sister Sabira who too had run away and landed at the Malad station.He spent three years of his life there, experiencing everything that no one should; from begging, stealing, going hungry to picking food from garbage bins and even being molested by older boys.
The turning point in his life was when Sister Seraphine and Father Placie Fonseca of Snehasadan, an NGO that runs a home for homeless children found him and his sister Sabira near Dadar station and took them under their care. Both he and his sister were enrolled in a school, and he also started to work with a newspaper vendor side by side. Later when he turned around 16 or 17, he started Amin Newspaper Supply, his own newspaper distribution business. He also never shied away from doing other odd jobs such as washing cars and running errands for people. He also learnt to drive while cleaning cars and later managed to get a driving license with money he earned by selling off his newspaper business. Amin adds, “ While I was at Snehasadan, they found my family but I refused to go back home because I got more love and care at Snehasadan.All my best memories, my family and friends were at Snehasadan.”
In 1998 Father Placie sent Amin to work for the man who was known for creating the Amul Butter mascot, Eustace Fernandes. Soon Amin charmed his way by working hard and doing everything from cooking to cleaning to driving Eustace around the city and became Eustace’s Man Friday.! The two shared a great bond as Eustace too had no family. During his years working with Eustace, Amin met his friends who visited him from all around the world and he learnt so many things from them, especially about the world, he learnt to speak English,learnt manners etc.”One thing I learnt from these foreigners was that for them everyone is equal, they call everyone by name. It’s only the people in our country call us driver, watchman, bai, cook or chotu etc. When they called me by my name I felt good, I felt I too had value. That’s when I decided I too want to visit abroad, especially Barcelona.”
Little did he know that his wish was soon to be fulfilled by Eustace one Christmas. Eustace used to gift Amin things like watches, clothes, shoes etc. every Christmas and on before Christmas in 2002, when he asked Amin what he would like Amin replied he would love to go to Barcelona. “ At first he laughed at me and thought I was drunk! But later he gave me a beautiful handmade card that said in 2003 you will go to Barcelona!”
2003 was a turning point in Amin’s life, he finally went to Barcelona with Eustace. “ It was 27 April 2003. I still remember the day I took my first fligh5 to Barcelona. I was so scared, nervous even though it was like a dream come true. I sat up all night before we took the flight, I just couldn’t sleep. I can’t explain that feeling,” reminiscences Amin.
Those 45 days in Barcelona changed his life says Amin. He describes how he was surprised to see not a single child begging on the streets, no hungry people. “It was so different from the country I belonged to. Where people talk about religion and spirituality etc. but have no compassion, people are blind and deaf to so much hunger and so many children who are homeless,” shares Amin.
That’s when he decided he would open his own charity Cafe in Mumbai, a place where street kids could come and have cookies and muffins sponsored by well-wishers. A place they could be children, learn to read, draw, play board games. Amin completed his autobiography to fund his dream. His autobiography is called Life is Life: I Am Because of You which he self-published it in 2012. “I sold the copies on the streets too,” he says. Luckily for him, a couple from Spain read the book in which he had also mentioned the idea of the cafe and they helped him set up the cafe.
A doctor couple who are his friends helped him to edit the book and design the cover, while some of his friends helped him to translate the book in other languages such as English, Spanish, French, Catalan, Marathi, Hindi, German and Hebrew.
Amin’s Bombay to Barcelona Library Café finally took shape in Marol, Andheri East, Mumbai. His staff at the cafe are all street-survivors.Most of them are from Snehasadan, the orphanage home where he too grew up. The cafe is a warm, friendly little place that has about 8 seats inside and 12 alfresco. In one corner lies a bookshelf with books of different genres. “People can donate one or two books to the cafe but the books have to have a positive message written in them and they must also write the reason why one should read the book,” informs Amin.
Amin says, “There was a time when I ran away in fear but I am running with confidence, to realise my dream to help many street children like me.”Amin bought a home for his mother and sisters again with some help from Eustace, his friends, and his own savings. His elder sister Sabira is today a trained nurse at a hospital and his younger sister Sabiya helps him at the café. Amin today gives motivational talks in India and across the world in places like Spain, Germany, France, and Norway.
And as we bid goodbye, Amin says,“All I’d like to tell youngsters and young married people is; Do not bring a child to the world if you cannot raise them.”
Read Also: From Child-Soldier To Movie Star
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