They say that every child is born equal. While this sentence may sound true, it actually isn’t when you realize that opportunities are different for different classes of the society. A child born with a silver spoon in the mouth has infinitely more chances of living his dreams than a child born to a rag picker. But what is life if everything you crave for is handed over to you without you even trying?
This story of 25-year-old Salman Sayyed is one that would inspire even the most nihilistic individual on earth and would re-instil faith and hope in the hearts of all broken individuals, for it is no less than a fairytale.
Salman was born on a footpath at Haji Ali, Mumbai. He spent his childhood observing his mother collect garbage and father do odd jobs to make ends meet. As they couldn’t afford even the basic survival needs, Salman was forced to dropout of school when he was in STD 2. After that, he started assisting his mother in rag picking also resorted to selling second hand books at traffic signals.
Intrigued by his wares, Salman got his father to teach him alphabets and over time, taught himself how to read English and speak battered sentences. He even asked some of his regular customers to demystify the larger words he stumbled across every now and then in the books that he sold.
When Salman turned 12, a teacher named Caroline from Akanksha Foundation, which provides high-quality education to children from low-income families in Pune and Mumbai, ran into him. She then visited him every day at the traffic signal and pursued him to continue studying. Finally, Salman relented and agreed to attend school.
But he didn’t forget the main reason for which he had to let go of studies in the first place. To add as much as he could to the family income as possible, he continued to sell books in the evening after attending his morning classes.
In 2011, he appeared for his STD 10 exam but failed. Salman did not give up and kept preparing for his examination and re-appeared next year to clear it with ease this time. In STD 11, he scored 91 percent and in STD 12, he got 81 percent in his exams. During the final two years of his schooling, he was also bestowed with the responsibility of a head-boy. Salman started believing in himself and realized that his dreams could come true. He then enrolled himself in KC College, Mumbai for a course in sociology and in the meanwhile, he kept working as a tour guide to pay for his studies.
In 2017, Salman came across a student exchange program by the US Department of State. In their Community College Initiative Program, they select students from various countries and offer them scholarships. Disregarding his fears of being a fish out of a pond in a predominantly English-speaking country, Salman took an interest in it and applied for the program.
And to his surprise, he made it through. Along with other international students from Turkey, South Africa, and India, Salman made his American dream come true. He is currently studying entrepreneurship at the Houston Community College (HCC), in Houston, Texas which is notable for actively recruiting internationally.
“I realised that I am no different from anyone. Most of us are stuck at some crossroad or the other. I too was, for most of my childhood until I decided to move on. Today, I want to help other people like me who are also stuck at some crossroad in their life. I realised that’s the meaning of my life. That’s the moral of my true story,” he says.
Salman volunteers for the American Red Cross Society, Houston Foodbank and was a part of the rescue team during the Houston flood last year. He often writes about his experiences in his blog called My Journey, My Dreams. Salman dreams of returning to Mumbai to start his own touring company that would range from Mumbai city to the Dharavi slums.