Old newspapers hold new hope for slumdogs

Old newspapers hold new hope for slumdogs

There isn’t much people do with newspapers after they’re done with their daily dose of information each morning. Well, for some the newspaper is beyond just news and opinion. Ask Ram­an Kumar, and you’d realise how sacrosanct this piece of broadsheet is for this 21-year-old youth.

It’s this newspaper that people often dump as scrap, perhaps to be sold at less than Rs 11 a kg to a scrap dealer, that has transformed his life.

Raman, whose father works as a sweeper, is growing up under the patronage of an NGO--Theatre Age- on collections received from newspaper sold as scrap. Theatre Age has inspired residents of Chandigarh tri-city to donate huge quantities of newspaper to the NGO, which sells it as scrap to dealers and spends the revenue proceeds for upbringing and educating slum children.

Raman today is a final year student of Fine Arts and his exhibition is underway in Chandigarh. Had it not been for Theatre Age, Raman, perhaps, would have continued with his first job, preparing stage posters on a piece meal basis for local shows in the city.

Theatre Age’s President Zulfikar Khan is fondly referred to as “King Khan”. He’s the spirit behind the mission to transform lives of slum children. The NGO gets huge quantities of newspaper scrap every month, which helps support a large part of the education and everyday requirement, including vegetarian meals, of these under-privileged boys and girls.

Khan is a happy man today. He gloats with a sense of pride explaining how his students can now even dream of being the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Zahir Khan. Former Indian cricketer Dinesh Mongia will now be imparting cricketing skills to these slum children at his cricket academy in Chandigarh.

It’s free of cost and what’s more. Mongia has already chosen his 16 players to compete with the Chandigarh police team in an upcoming exhibition match. Three days a week and evening sessions under floodlights, the slum boys are all padded to give the rustic cops a tough fight.

Khan told Deccan Herald: “The real challenge was to convince parents of these children to send them to school. Many of them were working as shoe shine boys earning barely anything. Today, they are not only pursuing education and vocational training, they live with a sense of pride and a dream to relish.”

Khan said: “We give children everything, from food to soap, oil, clothes, books, shoes and even comb.”

But a good “sporty” diet, especially for his budding cricketers, is a cause of concern. He says the money from newspaper scrap does a lot good, but is not enough for a good diet which children require. May be some volunteers will come forward, he hoped.  Theatre Age has some 50 Chandigarh slum children, including some shoe shine boys, and 11 girls.

Zulfiqar Khan said: “It wasn’t initially easy to convince people to give up newspaper scrap. Many had apprehensions. But we motivated them”.  Khan said he went door to door enrolling people who would donate him used newspapers.

“Today, the results show it all,” he said. “King Khan” had once been as aspiring film actor. But after passing out from the Department of Indian Theatre at Punjab University in Chandigarh with a gold medal 17 years ago, he realised his passion was elsewhere. Khan is now 24X7 invol­ved with slum children.

Khan points out at one of his favourites-Vicky Raja. The boy would steal hens and utensils from neighbourhood and sell them for a daily bread for even to buy a pack or two of cards. But, he gave up all the wrongdoing after coming to Theatre Age. Raja is today a brave BSF soldier, Zulfikar said.
Some performing professionals have volunteered to hold free classes for these children every evening. The NGO’s dedicated patronage of slum children has served another purpose.

It has helped them to think away from drugs, pick pocketing, rag-picking and loitering around. The avant-garde man with his conviction utilised the charm of drama, dance and music to attract the children to Theatre Age.

The artistic one at Theater Age get lessons on drama and theatre from Khan each day. The cause is growing. From beneath trees where these children use to gather to at least four rooms in a school provided by the education department, there’s no looking back. They have their own kitchen, classrooms, vocational study centre, computer lab and bundles of waste newspapers stacked on one side promising to transform many more lives.

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