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. 
 
On Life
 
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
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    COMMENTS

    Ralph Rau

    5 years ago

    Interesting story. It made me wonder if Amin Sheikh follows any faith. Is it his personal business or should the state intervene with a "Freedom of Religion" legislation arguing that his adoption
    from the street constituted "inducement" of a better life

    Ramanathan Ganesh

    5 years ago

    Great Article well written.

    Good to know about such "Love Stories" also amongst so many "hate Stories" filling up all pages of our dailies and magazines..

    Ganesh

    SookieSkipper

    5 years ago

    His perception on life is truly simplistic and inspirational. "Bad" is indeed a vicious cycle that once broken will start a path to a better life. Its amazing how one person can bring about change in bunch of young adults who deserve nothing but a chance for redemption.

    Le Tour de France is Not a Tour

    Le Tour de France stands for the most severe form of sporting activity on the planet. A short sketch of one of the most gruelling and unique sporting events of the world, by a former national cycling champion

     

    Le Tour de France is not a sightseeing trip. Nor is it a picnic. It is a misnomer. It stands for the most severe form of sporting activity on the planet. It lasts three weeks and covers about 3,000 kms, give or take a couple of hundreds every year.
     
    Think of a Bombay-Poona cycle race. Throw in some mountains three to four times longer and often steeper. Think of rising from the hot plains to above the snow line in a single day. Think of snowstorms and blizzards. And chilly rain. And 100 kms per hour mountain descents. All on a small, narrow saddle, with 20 mm width tyres inflated to over 150 psi, in a bunch of 100+ riders jostling for space on narrow roads.
     
    It is not your day out; even though it’s called a Tour!         
     
    Tour in French means a circuit, a journey that goes around. Le Tour de France is a cycle that goes around France. And of late, other countries too, including England across the channel.
     
    Le Tour is a series of individual races where all the contestants start off together every day. Each day’s performance is individually timed and recorded and the winner is the rider with the lowest aggregate time. One race was won by only 29 seconds.
     
    These days the race is composed of about 20 teams of professional riders; each team has nine members. The whole exercise is a concerted effort in just getting the team leader first over the line every day. In fact, so important is the team spirit that the other eight riders are called “domestiques”, French for servants. (For more on domestiques, check out Google on ‘Domestiques in Cycling’.)
     
    This is professional sports at the highest level. In case one wonders why in God’s name should the others help the team leader, the reason is simple. Money. All the winnings are usually shared. Of course, the winner gets a lot more from ancillary contracts, promotions, and advertising. And, the glory and adoration rival that accorded to cricketers in India.
     
    So famous are the Tour winners that a survey taken in the 1950s threw up some astonishing statistics. The members of the French Army and Legionnaires were quizzed about the winners and 92% correctly named the winner of that year’s Tour, as compared to the Head of State who came poor second, somewhere in the 20%s.
     
    The success of the Tour has inspired other such races. The Giro d’Italia, The Vuelta in Spain, all named for circuits. The Tour of Britain was once called the Milk Tour, sponsored by the Milk Marketing Board. There are Tours in Switzerland, South Africa, America and many other countries. None compares to Le Tour in prestige or effort. The other races call for extraordinary prowess. Le Tour asks for superhuman effort.
     
    Le Tour is over a hundred years old; held every year except when interrupted by the two wars. The finish is always in Paris, on The Champs Elysees. Crowds are ten to fifteen deep over the streets, as lakhs watch the end of three weeks worth of cycle mania. And go mad if a Frenchman wins.
     
    To really appreciate the skill and effort that go to make this event, see a documentary called, “Pour Un Maillot Jaune”; French for “For a Yellow Jersey”, the colour of the race leader’s shirt. Why yellow? Well, that’s another story; for another day.
     
    As this is being written, it is almost 25 years to the day when we had our own stage race. The Zandu-Blitz Bombay to Delhi race. Ten days and 1,400 kms. At that time the longest in Asia, with Rs5 lakh as prizes; when the cricketers were earning maybe a few thousand over five days.
     
    (Advocate Bapoo Malcolm was national cycling champion in 1962 and 1964. He also formed India’s first Professional Cyclists Association in 1982.)
     
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    Healthy food via solar cooker
    Although good solar cookers have been available for two decades, they were out of reach because of distribution issues. Nowadays you can even order them on online. Food cooked in solar cooker taste better
     
    Prices of crude oil are falling globally but in percentage terms nowhere close to the way prices of solar powered products and cells as well as reflecting surfaces used for solar energy purposes are falling too. Not just photo-voltaic and photo-thermal cells but even paint-on or paint-apply reflective surfaces, which can be used to generate energy with even the least amount of Sun regardless of ambient temperatures around.
     
    For the last few weeks, we have been using a new generation solar cooker at home for cooking a variety of food items in Delhi's cold weather. The list of items we could not cook is mutton (gave up after five hours, but that is also because it became foggy) and rotis (we need to tweak the flour used so that it can "rise" like a "kulcha"). Everything else can and has been cooked. Even French toast.
      
    For the rest, for a family of five, sometimes six people, we have been able to cook a variety of raw unpolished rice (100-120 minutes), polished rice (60-75 minutes), lentils (90-120 minutes) and vegetables (60-150 minutes, depending). Food ends up tasting better, and for those of us who recall what daal tasted before pressure cookers entered our homes, tastes fluffier too. 
     
    Cooking by solar also requires less oil/ghee, as the process involves slow cooking at its best, and this in turn reduces the amount of oil wasted by simply being burnt away. There is no need to keep stirring also, as the heat is applied from all around and within.
     
    The all-important "tadka" is applied previously or subsequently as per your taste. Solar "chaunkh" never tasted better, especially if done in a covered vessel left in the solar cooker for a few hours to heat up well.
     
    Prices for a typical four-container/vessel type solar cooker now start from as low as Rs2,000 upwards and there is no "brand" value attached to them. Modern nano coating techniques enable even plastics and polymers to be coated, as also metals, which can be bent or curved to any shape wanted. The one we use looks like a medium sized suitcase, about 550mm x 550mm by 300mm in size, and apart from the hinges and latches, is made totally of lightweight composite material and is therefore easy to place and move about literally anywhere.
     
    Solar cookers are available with ease online and increasingly in local markets too. The biggest benefit we have found is that it liberates us from the kitchen, as food laid out to cook does not get burnt, because temperatures do not rise beyond a moderate cooking level. This is one product where, hopefully, local unbranded options will do much better than costlier branded types. Simple rule - if you get even half a day's sun for half the year, then you will recover your investment in short time. Not to mention that you must have access to a roof, balcony or yard, which gets at least two-three hours of Sun on sunny days.
     
    The previous problems of birds pecking at the solar panels have been solved by using full reflecting surfaces. However, within Indian conditions, we may need to see solar cookers with drain plugs to remove condensation that forms inside the cooker at times. Right now, we just hold it upside down, and then wipe it dry.
     
    (Veeresh Malik started and sold a couple of companies, is now back to his first love—writing. He is also involved in helping small and midsize family-run businesses re-invent themselves.)
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    COMMENTS

    N R KANNAN

    5 years ago

    Any links for online purchase?

    Dr Anantha K Ramdas

    5 years ago

    Many thanks for interesting article on solar cooking. It would be a great
    feat if Government machinery is used to arrange for actual exhibitions in various cities in which the manufacturers can present their models. If they can also make available details of after sales service it would give an assurance that aam aadmi can buy and use these, and approach them for assistance if and when needed.

    Can we ask mr Malik to identify the maker, if he is totally satisfied with the performance? Is this the first one he tried? or there similar ones (capacity wise) available in the market?

    In the same way, I hope soon some solar panel manufacturer comes out with a small prototype unit that individual houses/flats can buy and plug the system to the main lines so that power generated is used at home as well. It is not easy for everyone to spend Rs 2/3 lakhs to make initial investment because the economies of scale, relating to the actual monthly bill currently paid, may not permit such a purchase!

    Such simpler units can then be clubbed together in a given area and generate power for use themselves and release the balance to the central grid...

    REPLY

    Veeresh Malik

    In Reply to Dr Anantha K Ramdas 5 years ago

    In response to points raised by Dr. Ramdas -

    # There is hardly any after sales service required for a solar cooker. A wet cloth to wipe the reflecting surface; and the rest is like a suitcase.

    # The manufacturer's name is "Rohitas Electronics" the product is "Tulsi Solar Oven" and their website is at -http://www.tulsisolarcooker.com/

    # I have done a few articles on solar power at MoneyLife in the past also. It is really sad that government policies in India appear to favour "big solar" but then economies of scale are tipping things in favour of "micro-small solar".

    # This aricle from the Economist explains how Africa is racing ahead with solar power.
    http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist...

    # In India, the Armed Forces are making major strides in solar power solutions.

    I hope this helps explain things.

    Veeresh Malik

    Narendra Doshi

    5 years ago

    Tks Veereshji,
    Just shifted to a terrace apartment and would love to implement your recipe.

    We are listening!

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