sweet dreams are made of this...

I remember the day when I first met Sanjay. It must have been 8 years or so ago and he must have been 14. We had just begun teaching a primary class at the Lohar Bati, gypsy camp, located next to our first centre. Sanjay and some of his pals, who had all dropped out of school, use to hang around our open air class, mesmerised by the foreign volunteers who sometimes taught classes. After some time we suggested they too come and join and some did, Sanjay was one of them. Little did I know that one day the somewhat rebellious good looking kid would break all ceilings and walk the ramp.

But let us not jump the gun! Let me tell you Sanjay's story as I know it. Actually it begins well before I met Sanjay. Like many of you who live in Delhi, I too must have passed by the umpteen Lohar camps strewn across the city and never really looked at them, certainly not with my heart! It is only when we opened an outreach programme in what is called the Janata Jeevan camp, that I had to walk by the Lohar camp situated next to the Kalakaji bus depot. The sight and plight of the small bright eyed children running about and breathing if not choking on the fumes of cars revving up at the red light caught my attention and I decided to do something. The first thing that came to mind was to start a small creche and a primary section. Now Lohars, like all gypsies, are proud people, and not one to accept charity of any kind. We met Tau, the head of the camp and explained what we wanted to do. He immediately saw the wisdom of our request and accepted it. There was an open space behind the camp and that is where it all began.

As months passed, I found myself often heading towards the camp and spending time there, imbibing the rare wisdom and sagacity of these proud people. Somehow being with them was a way of stepping off the spinning world and recharging my batteries! They always had a cup of tea ready for me if not a hot hand slapped roti. I also discovered to my horror that they had been living on the pavement for 30 years though they had been promised rehabilitation by the government. I decided to do something and urged them to file a PIL in the High Court. Sadly nothing came of it and they continue to live with the Damocles sword of destruction hanging over their heads. Sadly again we had to discontinue our classes because of the authorities. We hope to be able top resume them again soon.

In the early days of our work there, I use to spend time with the children and often asked them about their dreams. They use to share them with me and they were often small and simple ones. I urged them to dream big, very big and to hold on the dream, because dreams had sometimes an uncanny way of coming true! I remember the older boys standing in the background and listening to what I had to say. I guess Sanjay was there too, but he never then shared his dream with me, though he joined classes and went on to complete his schooling. Geeta our creche teacher was Sanjay's elder sister. When she got married she requested us to give her job to her brother as they needed the money. We did though I recall telling him that with his looks he should become a super model. I never knew my words would be prophetic.

Sanjay has been teaching primary children for the past 5 years. His gentle ways and his boundless patience have made him a great favourite with the children. And for me the simple fact that this almost drop out gypsy boy became a teacher was something to be terribly proud of. And that is why when Camille Ponsin, a reputed French documentary maker wanted a 'story', I thought the one of the pavement born gypsy boy turned teacher was one he should go for. I was far from knowing that it would become a fairy tale, where seemingly impossible dreams come true.

The filming began and all seemed on track. One day Camille called me and told me that Sanjay had shared his real dream on camera: that of making it to Bollywood. At first I just smiled. Was this not the dream of every kid in the land, the one that sustained you through your darkest hours? I must admit I let it pass. Then another call informing me that Camille had a possible entree into the hallowed land, someone that could perhaps make this crazy dream happen. He wanted to take Sanjay to Mumbai and simply take it from there. The rest is now history. Last Sunday Sanjay walked the ramp for a top designer and did it with flair and aplomb.

It is with immense pride that I read the next days papers. I was tickled pink by Sanjay's answer to a journo who asked him if he was nervous: “Chalna hi toh hai. Do saal ki ummar se kar raha hoon (All I have to do is walk. I’ve been doing that since I was two). His words reflected the spirit he was born with, the one that is the heritage of one who belongs to a proud people who have roamed for centuries without fear. Reading those words I knew that no matter what lay ahead, Sanjay would take it in his stride, whether it was walking ramps or simply walking the road of life.

My thoughts went back to the day when I had jokingly told him he should become a super model. I wonder if the God of Lesser Beings was listening.