It was during a visit to South Mumbai that I walked into Kitab Khana. And here it was that I chanced upon Bombay Mumbai. The image of the little urchin on the book cover had me hooked. I picked up the book at bedtime intending to read the first few pages. But that was not to be.
I finished reading it cover to cover in three days and yet the book, its characters and thoughts about the author stayed with me. And in every kid I spotted on the roads, I would see an Amin. All this before I had even interacted with this young man!
The book is an autobiographical account of Amin’s life, his own words checked only for grammar and spellings. However, the sheer positivity in his demeanor belies the immense suffering he has endured as a child.
Amin ran away from home at the age of 5 to escape physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his parents, not knowing that he was setting himself up for the most unimaginable trauma no child should have to go through.
“After I ran from home to escape my parents’ incessant beatings and exploitation by my employer, I spent the next 3 years of my life at a Mumbai railway station, barely managing to keep alive. It was nothing short of a nightmare to try and stay alive in the midst of rampant sexual abuse and physical torture by all and sundry who probably needed to vent their anger for the sufferings they had endured in their life.”
The Beginning Of Life-Altering Moments
At 8, Amin and his little sister, who also fled from the home in search of him, were taken into the angelic care of Sister Seraphine at Sneh Sadan, a shelter for homeless children. This is where Amin would spend the next 10 years of his life receiving love and care that brought about a magical transformation in him. And he confirms this with his five-minute introduction to the book where he names every single person who has worked with him to make this dream come alive.
“At 16, I was introduced to Eustace Fernandes, renowned artist who created the iconic Amul girl. For the next 13 years of my life, Eustace was my mentor and more like a father to me. I learned a lot from him. Sadly Eustace passed away in 2010.”
As we sat in the living room of his home, Amin’s pride in thoughtfully creating every corner is evident. The first object to catch my attention in his room filled with memories of places visited and people met is a white board that occupies a place of pride. “All my dreams are written here,” says Amin. “I write it all down and look at it every morning. And, I know, that someday I will fulfill each one of it. I must always remember where I have come from. If I forget that, I will fail. And this board helps me remember my journey and every challenge I have overcome.
As a street child, one is pushed into situations which can shatter you both physically as well as emotionally. And it is not very easy to get over that trauma. I was lucky enough to find angels like Father Placie, Sisters Seraphine and Eustace who showed me the right path. It is only because of these people that I have been able to achieve what I have – I am who I am because of them.
But my journey is far from over. I had them, but there are still thousands of Amins out there on the streets with no one looking out for them. As a child on the street, education or a job is not possible. I want to work with children who did not get such opportunities and help them rebuild their lives as I have. That is my goal.”
Amin’s book Bombay Mumbai was the first step towards this dream. Self-published last year, the book has already sold 8,000 copies around the world in four languages – English, Spanish, French and Catalan. And Amin is hoping to release it in another four languages – Marathi, German, Hebrew and Italian.
Having found friends in travelers who avail of his services at his travel company Sneha Travels, Amin has a family, today, in almost every country of the world. And it is close friends such as these who have taken the books with them and helped spread the word. And although support from his own people and countrymen has been slow in coming, he is hoping to mobilize enough support for his cause via the sale of books.
Kitab Khana, with their magnanimous gesture of selling the books at no margin and Xaviers Institute of Communications who created a video about this whole concept, are some of the benefactors who have given him the encouragement to wake up each morning and step out to realize his dream.
And What May This Cause Be?
The book is dedicated to building a book café where only individuals who grew up on the streets will be employed. Another key philosophy of the café is “it will be affordable for all. Be it a child from a middle-class family or the owner of a top company, they will all be treated equally. Everybody will get superior quality products at affordable rates.”
Bombay to Barcelona, as the café will be called, is absolutely ready in Amin’s head as is the complete blueprint of the project. The only thing remaining is the land on which he can build it.
“The idea of a library cafe was born while I was on a trip to Barcelona with Eustace. Cafes are such an important part of life there, serving as a melting pot where people from all walks of life come together to talk, listen, read and laugh. I knew then that this is the dream I wanted to work for.”
Amin’s friends from around the world are helping him secure funds for his dream project by promoting and translating his book in international languages. The book is already an international bestseller.
Almost an hour and a half of conversation later, my mind is just full of hope and light for the future of this young man who has fought the worst kind of adversity a child can endure. Having lived a life in the face of great consternation and poverty, Amin’s story is an inspiration to not just the children of Sneh Sadan, but also to the young and misguided Amin within each of us. And it is the positivity emanating from this one young man and his undying hope for the future that attracts well-wishers from across the globe in support of his cause.