From Street Child to Published Writer & Entrepreneur: Amin Sheikh’s extraordinary journey
Amin Sheikh, the runaway kid, is now grown up into an accomplished writer and ready to start his new venture. His library café would provide employment and world of opportunities for those who will be leaving the children’s home after attaining 18 years of age
“Everybody deserves to be treated with love and respect,” he says, with equal measures of conviction and humility. “What is the point of an education that doesn't teach one the value of unconditional love?”
These words are of Amin Sheikh – once a street child who ran away from an abusive home at the tender age of five, now the proud owner of a travel enterprise and a published writer. His story is both chilling and inspiring; he experienced unspeakable horrors at a young age as a homeless child on the streets of Mumbai, but he also met people whom he calls his “angels” who brought him out of that nightmare. While he credits these “angels” for what he is today, it is also because of his own optimism and the will to do something good for society.
Amin worked at a tea-stall as a young boy and was subject to abuse by his stepfather and sometimes his mother too. One day, he tripped and smashed many cups of tea while on his way to deliver the tea to a nearby factory. Afraid of what the tea-stall owner would do to him, Amin ran. He ran as far as his feet could take him. He ended up at a railway station, where he spent the next three years of his life. The travails those years left him both wise and embittered. He pelted stones at the woman who came to rescue him, unable to trust anyone at all. Thankfully, she persisted. It was Sister Seraphina from Snehasadan, an institution that fosters and educates homeless children. The day he entered Snehasadan, his life changed. In the eight years he spent there, he made friends and felt protected and loved. Though never keen on academics, he was always a quick learner. He worked with a newspaper vendor, and later set up his own newspaper stall. He learnt how to drive and got himself a driver's license. He then went to work for Eustace Fernandes. He became his son in the thirteen years he worked there and also managed to learn English and later set up his own transportation business.
In 2002, Eustace asked him what he wanted for Christmas. Amin requested to accompany him on his trip to Barcelona. That Christmas, Amin's life took a new turn. “Travelling has been my true education”, he says. Since 2003, Amin has travelled across Europe several times. “What is the difference between them and us Indians? It's just colour, isn't it? But how is it that they know how to respect all people? To be patient and kind to all irrespective of who they are or where they come from?” His questions are simple, but no one has the answers.
On writing his first Book:
His book, the story of his life -- Bombay Mumbai: Life is Life, I am Because of You was published in January 2013. Since then, it has sold over 9500 copies across the world in three languages. It took him three years to write, edit and publish the book. He did all this with the help of his friends from all over the world. The book also has a mission. He wants to use the funds raised from the sale of his book to set up his own Library Cafe – Bombay to Barcelona. His friends help him set up stalls to sell more copies of his book. He himself sells them on the streets. Amin has already managed to raise almost 40% of the funds he needs to set up his dream cafe. He is positive that the rest will fall into place soon.
The experience of writing the book was cathartic, he says. He had to face all the emotions – the joys and the sorrows - he had buried in some corner of his mind for years. “It was very painful sometimes,” he admits. “No one except the one who has experienced the pain truly understands it. Healing takes time and patience. I learned this as I wrote my story.”
Not just that - he already has plans to write another book, a full-length novel this time.
On his dream – 'Bombay to Barcelona':
“The name of my cafe has a secret to it. “Bombay to Barcelona” holds meaning. I will reveal it on the day my cafe opens”, he says cheerfully. “Institutions like Snehasadan are a blessing for homeless children. They take care of them and educate them. But what happens after that? Barely out of school, what are the opportunities available to them in this world of tough competition? I want to be there for them. I will take them in and provide employment. They will work at my cafe. Whatever money we make, we will use that to help other children in need.”
He has a clear vision in his mind. He knows exactly what his library cafe stands for – it won't be a place to be visited exclusively by the elite. His library cafe, he says, will be one where everyone is welcome. Where everyone will be treated as equals. Where even a poor child can have a cookie or a milkshake because he wishes to have one. Where one can read and enjoy tranquility. A safe haven for all, with none of the injustices of the world outside.
What is the secret to his unending optimism, I ask. His answer is simple. “If I subject others to what I went through, things will never change. The “bad” is a vicious cycle. It needs to break somewhere. I choose to be good. To myself and to others. I forgive my mother for what she did to me. Life is a learning process. And this is what I have learned. To multiply what is good. I was lucky to have found angels in my life, who helped me become who I am today. So I want to do the same for other children, the other little Amin-s who are still on the streets.”
We can all help Amin realise his dream by purchasing his book Bombay Mumbai: Life is Life, I am Because of You
. It is available exclusively at Kitab Khana in Fort, Mumbai. You can also write to him at [email protected]
and he will send you a signed copy.
Amin will also be present at the Moneylife Foundation's 5th Anniversary Celebration on 7 February 2015 at YB Chavan Hall (Nariman Point, Mumbai). You can meet him and buy your copy of his book for Rs300. To register for the event, please click here