The 70th Independence Day of India came up with a few stories of freedom. One such story is that of freedom from the poverty and hunger laden life on the streets of Mumbai. 36-year-old Amin Sheikh who took shelter on Mumbai streets as a homeless child and grew up like the kids in Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay opened a café this August 15. Named Bombay to Barcelona Library Café, the restaurant is a manifestation of Amin Sheikh’s determination to rise above his sorry status, make it big in life and do something for Mumbai’s street children.
There is a lot of curiosity about the name of this newly opened Mumbai restaurant. What the significance of Barcelona in the name ‘Bombay to Barcelona Library Café’ is makes another story. The name signifies Amin Sheikh’s epiphanic journey from Bombay to Barcelona, which made him redefine his outlook to life and the world at large.
The bygone years of Amin Sheikh’s life on the streets of Mumbai were full of events. When he was a child, he used to work long hours in a local tea shop. Adding to the ordeal of working long hours was the cruelty of his stepfather. One day he broke some tea glasses accidentally, he was scared of the shopkeeper to death. Besides, the fear of beating from his stepfather petrified him. He fled from home to escape the daily ordeals and took to streets.
He started his apparently bleak journey with living on local railway stations of Mumbai. Sometimes he begged for a living. Sometimes he picked leftover food from heaps of garbage. He worked as a coolie (porter) for a few years. Even he suffered drug and sexual abuse.
His life took a turn for the better when he was eight. A nun who worked for the rehabilitation of Mumbai’s street children took Amin Sheikh to an orphanage named Sneha Sadan where he grew up spending a few years. He worked as a newspaper boy in his teens. In 1998, adman Eustace Fernandez employed him as his driver and personal assistant. On a Christmas after several years of service, Amin requested Eustace Fernandez to gift him a trip to Spain. His travel to Barcelona happened in 2004, which broadened his perspective and changed the world for him.
To his utter surprise, he did not see any child on the streets of Barcelona. It motivated him to change the scenario in India. On return to Mumbai with lots of travel experience from Barcelona, he chose to work as a travel guide. He started offering car rental service alongside being a travel guide. At the same time, he started saving money to open a library café for street children. Since 2004, he made several trips to Spain and made many friends there.
Amin Sheikh hit upon the idea of writing his autobiography before opening the Bombay to Barcelona Library Café restaurant. Amin’s autobiography “Life is Life, I am Because of You” saw the daylight in 2012 and it has been translated in eight different languages. The book became an instrument to raise funds for the café. He did not hesitate to sell copies of the book at traffic signals, in street markets and outside churches across Mumbai.
With revenues from the sale of his autobiography “Life is Life, I am Because of You,” Amin Sheikh’s Bombay to Barcelona Library Café finally opened its door near Mumbai International Airport on the 70th Independence Day of India.
The restaurant employs some of those who grew up on the streets of Mumbai like him and some of those who were sheltered by Sneha Sadan. All the employees, including Amin Sheikh himself, are equally paid. Open to all, the restaurant also houses a library for poor children. Hundreds of people have donated books to help Amin build the library. Amin Sheikh’s Bombay to Barcelona Library Café is open to host exhibitions in the library.
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