I recently got the opportunity to interview three leaders. As expected, each is a unique individual. However at heart, they are alike. One of these leaders is Mr. Amin Sheikh. The following is an account of our chat.
His hundred watt smile painted a happy picture, but as our conversation wore on, I learnt so much about Amin, some incidents tore me up while some made me laugh. His life story is no less than a movie screenplay, unfortunately it is very real.
At the age of 5, Amin was living in a slum with his temperamental mother, abusive step father and 2 younger sisters; he was forced to work in order to supplement the household income. He did so by working at a tea stall ferrying cups of tea back and forth between the stall and the customers. The tea stall owner too was temperamental and soon Amin learnt not to do anything that could instigate his anger. One day while delivering tea to a nearby factory, Amin tripped and fell, bringing the cups crashing down and smashing them to bits. In a moment of sheer panic, the innocent 5 year old decided it would be best to run; for returning to the stall meant he would be taken to task. He ran for a long time without looking back. That night, he slept at a railway station.
He continued to live at the railway station for 3 years and learned to beg or steal food. He also learnt how to fend for himself through few small tricks to sell things (such as a comb) or services (shoe shine). Amin tried returning home a few times but the abusive step father combined with a taste of the “free” life, as he calls it, prompted him to leave home each time. He made friends at the railway station and also travelled the length and breadth of the country free of cost, on the trains.
In those 3 years Amin faced the worst possible situations, physical and sexual abuse, forced drug abuse, instability, and many other atrocities. This also ensured that he lost his innocence at the age of 8 and was a cynic. When Sister Seraphine of Snehasadan came to rescue him for the first time, he didn’t trust her and in fact, pelted her with objects so that she would leave. However, fate was smiling kindly upon the boy and Sister Seraphine persisted. A few days later, Amin went to live at Snehasadan. He lived there for 8 whole years, and these were the most enjoyable and beautiful years of his life. There were hardships, there were rules, there were studies (which he disliked) and there was a time when he ran away even from Snehasadan, but he came back in a few days’ time.
Amin believes he first met angels at Snehasadan, they saved him and turned his life around. He went on to work with a newspaper vendor, then owned his own newspaper stalls and also washed cars for a living. With time, Amin saved up some money and learnt to drive, he also obtained a driver’s license. One day, one of his angels, Father Placie asked Amin to meet him at his office.
Father Placie told Amin about an employment opportunity with a man named Eustace Fernandes who needed a full time driver. Amin took up the opportunity without hesitation. His first impression on entering the house of Mr. Fernandes was that he had only seen something like this in the movies they showed at Snehasadan. Never before had he seen a more beautiful house and one so large. There were so many things, each with their own place, everything was clean and vibrant. Mr. Fernandes immediately hired him. Amin later learnt that Mr. Fernandes was a renowned artist, creator of the mascot for an extremely well known Indian dairy brand. He had a lot of visitors each day, friends and others. It was a lively home and slowly Amin became his man Friday.
Amin spent many years in the service of Mr. Fernandes and during these years he learnt English, and also received help from Mr. Fernandes to start his own transportation business. However, his calling came as a present, on Christmas day in the year 2002.
On being asked by Mr. Fernandes what he wanted for Christmas, Amin timidly asked if he could go along with him to Barcelona, where Mr. Fernandes’ sister lived and who he visited regularly. Mr. Fernandes thought it over and finally agreed. In April, 2003 they flew to Barcelona for a vacation that lasted a month and half. Amin has flown to Barcelona and many other European cities since that first trip in 2003.
Amin Sheikh, the boy who ran away from his home in a slum at the age of 5 is now a proud owner of his own business, he owns 2 homes in Mumbai (one for his his mother and sisters; one where he lives by himself), he is a published author, having written his illustrated autobiography. His book has been translated into multiple languages such as Hindi, Marathi and French. Soon it is expected to release in 2 other foreign languages.
Amin has friends all over the world who help him on his journey to achieve his dream of providing employment to the underprivileged youth in Mumbai. He plans to open a café in Mumbai, through which he would like to connect these youth with the right employment opportunities. He is currently raising funds for this project. Through this café, he also wants to create a haven of equality where the homeless can be served along with other customers.
A leader in his own right, Amin has turned his life around, and wants to work towards helping other less fortunate souls who go unnoticed by most. His dream he says, is to change the life of at least one street child in his lifetime.