True gumption and grit know no boundaries. Pinky Sheikh is one of those inspirational cases who through the bylanes of Kolkata, Kamathipura and now Kandivli managed to meet children above 10 years of age from all over the world. Songs of Hope is a US-based international summer camp that invites children from all over the world to participate and learn each others’ passions and performing arts in a multicultural setting. Pinky was the only Indian this July who not only flew to the state of Minnesota but also received a 75% scholarship from them.
On June 28, Pinky learnt how to travel in a plane and went abroad for the first time in her life. A ward of NGO Kranti (in Kandivli) who work in rehabilitation of girls from Mumbai’s red-light areas by making them agents of social change spurred Pinky on to seek her dream.
Robin Chaurasiya, a co-founder of Kranti, heard of this golden opportunity in May this year and soon enough Pinky was chosen. The Songs of Hope trust board was impressed so much so that they volunteered to provide a rebate to her on the fees and even patiently waited her to join in one week after the program started as she faced visa problems.
“My brother taught me how to dance -- Bollywood and Hip Hop. I love dancing and singing and it was a dream come true to see the Statue of Liberty. I loved meeting the people there, looking at the streets of America and America the whole continent in itself,” shares a coy Pinky who seems much mature beyond her ears. No giggles, no mindless banter. She further relates in measured tones, “The experience was very good. Someone came to pick me up, and at St Paul’s (Minnesota) we did many activities and learnt about 15 countries from 50 children in the group.”
As one prods about the nationalities, almost as if counting them off on her fingers, she shares, “Japan, Vietnam, Russia, Italy, Korea, Iraq and many more.” Being perceptive to sensitivity and helpfulness, she points out a US friend from the camp who helped her through, even at times, when she had problems with the language. Having hardly been to school, Pinky still has a remarkable command on the language and is currently sitting for 10th standard examinations through the open school setup.
“I was fed up of listening to English being spoken throughout the programme for those six weeks…though it was fun. I also ate chicken and fish but I didn’t like much of turkey,” spoke an innocent Pinky. As the program’s structure involves teaching a song from your country, Pinky’s choice was Shubha Mudgal’s Aayo re maro dholna that she taught to her peers. As the programme travelled, from St Paul’s to Roseville, Minneapolis, Lake City and others, Pinky managed to dance in front of a range of audience (up to 500 people) and performed at 15 different venues; eventually being interviewed by BBC Hindi as well.
Child of a sex worker and an unknown father, Pinky was born to a mother who still needs desperate help and is as of now suffering from Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI). Oblivious to the wellbeing of her kids, Pinky and her elder brother Rafique by six years were brought down to Mumbai in 2002-3 as her mother sought work in the city’s oldest red-light district.
As luck would have it, Rafique around 10 years of age was put in a school at the behest of an NGO as several pay heed to children of such backgrounds. Yet 4 or 5-year-old Pinky was too young and stayed with her mother wherein she was abused by her mother and (as she recalls) perhaps even her father’s friend. Eventually, she saw school for a brief period of time in 2006 but her mother soon withdrew her from education.
After taking care of her mother (who was often inebriated) and fending food for the duo by living on the streets, Pinky was brought to Kranti. Today, Pinky’s life is punctuated with sporadic meetings with her mother while there is no contact with her brother.
Full of dreams, Pinky wants to look ahead, only: “I want to go to Paris and see the Eiffel Tower, and even see the Great Wall of China. Maybe everywhere. But as my life dream I want to work with poor people who have AIDS especially children.”
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