Raising a boy on his own

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Raising a boy on his own

He has been a teacher to Madonna, Britney Spears, Shakira, Beyoncé and the biggest of Bollywood celebrities. But the most important lesson for ballroom dancer and choreographer Sandip Soparrkar, he admits, has come from Arjun, his 11-year-old adopted son.

“Before Arjun came into my life, my work used to rule my world. But he has taught me so much. I’ve become more patient. I know now that it’s not a bigger house or bigger car that makes you richer, but more love,” says the doting dad.

Untrodden path

In 2007, when Sandip brought an infant Arjun home, he became the first single male in India to adopt a child. Understandably, the road to fatherhood was rather bumpy. “The laws permitted it, but they had been lying dormant for long,” says the Mumbai-based dancer. It took four years of relentless pursuit and the earnest efforts of Sulochana Karlo, the trustee of Bal Anand (an orphanage in Mumbai) and Swati Mhatre, a social worker, for Sandip to realise his dream of adopting a child.

But why adopt? The decision had been made many years ago when Sandip was still in college. “There was an adoption case in my family and we used to regularly visit the orphanage. I fell in love with the wonderful children there…There was this little girl named Sonia. To this day, I remember her face vividly,” he confides. The plan was to wait for the right time, when he had the emotional and financial support to go ahead with his decision.

Just like with dancing, Sandip doesn’t believe in shortcuts in parenting. His mantra is to keep trying till he gets it right. Learning to change the baby’s nappies or giving him a bath were novel challenges no doubt, but they offered a great opportunity for paternal bonding. And the hands-on dad was eager to make the most of it. With routines that included taking Arjun to the mall for shopping to playing with him at the beach, the father-son connection took its natural course.

Challenges they face

Of course, there have been plenty of other challenges, too. Especially in terms of balancing professional and personal life. Finding quality time together, given Sandip’s extensive travels and work commitments, is now a constant struggle.

“When Arjun was younger, it was easier. I would take him wherever I go – for my shows and my shoots. But now with school, that’s no longer feasible,” he explains. So, whenever Sandip’s travelling for work, his parents come down from Pune to stay with Arjun. And if it’s only a day’s trip, his friend Nilesh Auti, a painter who lives in the neighbourhood, keeps the young lad company. “Arjun loves to paint and sketch. So, the duo enjoy their creative discussions,” says the dad.

Leading by example

When Sandip is in Mumbai, you are most likely to find the father and son at the mall shopping for groceries, vegetables, or even home decor items. At home, they are usually chatting about “different types of knots” (Arjun is in the Scouts), or busy cleaning up their rooms. Whoever said housework is not for men!

“I don’t want Arjun to think that domestic chores are for women. I would like him to grow up to be an independent person. And the best way to do that is to lead by example,” maintains Sandip.

Right now, the biggest source of anxiety for the dad is his son’s impending adolescence. Arjun’s demands have started increasing; the shoes have started matching the belts. It’s a rite of passage that every parent has to brace himself for. But for a single parent (Sandip’s marriage of six years with model and actress Jesse Randhawa ended earlier this year), the phase can be a lot more taxing.

However, Sandip is confident that this too shall pass. In the end, he believes, what will remain is unconditional love. he dad insists that he has no dreams for his son. Why not? He would rather Arjun chase his own dreams and not be burdened with anything else. “That’s the way my parents brought me up. And that’s what I would like for my son – the freedom to be whatever he wants to be.” There’s only one non-negotiable factor though: Arjun has to complete his studies first.

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