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Blind man's flute takes him from Dadar station to the big stage

Salim Ansar Sheikh (25) has been playing his flute at the same rail over-bridge for the past seven years; he met his wife there in 2008 and was spotted at the same place recently by an NGO worker, who invited him to perform at a concert

If your daily commute involves speeding through the main rail-overbridge at Dadar station, chances are you’ve stopped short in your tracks at some point, to take a minute just to listen to the notes wafting from Salim Ansar Sheikh’s flute.

The young flutist cannot see, but the rare skill with which he plays on his instrument draws many busy commuters to his corner of the vast, bustling station, moving them and injecting some beauty and art into their daily grind.

Salim Ansar Sheikh, who has been playing at this spot on Dadar rail over-bridge for 7 years. Pics/Rane Ashish
Salim Ansar Sheikh, who has been playing at this spot on Dadar rail over-bridge for 7 years. Pics/Rane Ashish

Salim, who makes ends meet for his family by playing his flute at Dadar station, is celebrating a breakthrough of sorts, these days — he was recently chosen to play for a packed audience on stage, as part of a show organised by a city NGO.

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Naina Kuttappan, founder president of the NGO Eshaan Humanity Foundation, found Salim regaling a mesmersied audience at Dadar station recently. The timing was perfect — she was looking for skilled artists with disabilities, for Melody Marvels, a project spearheaded by her organisation.

Salim never begs, but commuters passing him by often stop just to listen to him, and give him money voluntarily
Salim never begs, but commuters passing him by often stop just to listen to him, and give him money voluntarily

“I was walking inside Dadar station when I heard the notes from a flute. I listened for some time and traced the music to its source. When he finished playing his tune, I asked him to play another. He was playing so well that people were stopping just to listen to him, and giving him money voluntarily,” said Kuttappan.

Salim was chosen right there. Salim will be one of the five talented artists performing at Ravindra Natyamandir on August 16 a performance that could launch his career to greater heights. Abraham John, trustee of the foundation, said, “We are conducting the programme on August 16 in Ravindra Natyamandir, to give them a platform and promote their talents.

Auditions for the other four participants are still on. After the programme, those who wish can contact the NGO and rope in the artists to perform for them at other venues.” Ashish Singh, the foundation’s development officer, said, “We are working hard for the programme and hope that many such talented people will get a chance to earn respectfully, after it.”

Difficult journey
Salim, who has been playing his flute at Dadar railway station every day since 2007, says he is happy doing just that, for all his life. “This is where my life is. I found my life partner on this bridge. I am able to live a healthy life only because of the money I make by playing at this station,” said the 25-year-old, who lives in Kalyan with his wife and one-and-a-half-year-old son.

At the same spot in the station where Kuttappan found Salim a few days ago, a young woman had walked up to him in 2008, and asked for his hand in marriage. “She was in college when I met her. We were in a committed relationship for four years, before we got married in 2012. My life is woven in with life in Dadar station, and I don’t want to leave this spot till my last breathe,” added Salim.

But the journey from the station to the big stage has been fraught with setbacks, shares Salim, who lost his mother when he was only four-years-old. “My father put me in boarding school. I did not know about my mother’s death till I turned 13. By then, my father had married another woman.

When someone told me about my mother’s death, it came as a shock to me. I ran away from home and decided to strike out on my own,” said Salim. But a policeman caught him at Bhusawal, and took him to Mumbai, where he finally found his true calling, as a flutist.

Every day, Salim appears at his spot around 12 noon, and stays put till 9 pm, regaling passers-by with his tunes. On Saturdays, he plays till 10:30 pm. “I never beg, and also I never play inside trains. I feel that it is disrespectful towards my art. I love playing and can go on four hours,” said Salim, who is inspired by the music of Mohammad Rafi and loves playing his tunes on his flute.

In a city like Mumbai, no space is too small to spark territorial wars. The tiny spot at Dadar station that Salim occupies comes under threat, almost on a regular basis. Salim said that he has been asked many times to leave his spot. At other times, drunkards or rogues doing the rounds of the station browbeat him, and try to extract money from him. “If I refuse to give them money, they threaten me,” he said.

But the young man has also enjoyed a fair share of the city’s goodwill. On Diwali two years ago, he recollects, a fan of his music came to him with a gift of Rs 5,000. Asked about his first big stage performance, he said, “I am very happy with the offer made by the NGO. It’s not just the money, but the fact that my art has been noticed and that I will be performing in front of so many successful people. It’s the achievement of a lifetime for me.”

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