He was just 10, and hooked to the 'high' of sniffing a solvent. But after spending five months in a rehabilitation home, Monu, a rag picker, had a new lease of life.
This inspirational story is now a documentary, The Life I Left Behind, made by Sumeer Walia, and which was screened on Saturday at Sri Aurobindo School of Integral Education, Sector 27, Chandigarh.
Sumeer, 39, hails from Ludhiana and is the associate director of Tie (The Indus Entrepreneurs), a non-profit organisation dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship. From being a photo and video manager at an international cruise liner, Sumeer's interests in social work took him to Ashiana in Haryana, one of the projects of the Association for Social Health in India (Haryana state branch).
One year of visiting the shelter home, and Sumeer had hit upon the subject of his documentary - Monu. He recalls, "The authorities running Ashiana - a shelter home for destitute and orphan children that also arranges for their education and rehabilitation - had caught 10-year-old Monu buying drugs.
When I met the children there, I realised that every innocent soul had a story to tell and these stories attracted me." Out of the three children addicted to drugs that Sumeer met, he picked Monu to be filmed. Having been a professional photographer earlier, making a documentary wasn't a challenge for Sumeer. Instead, his aim was to churn out a real-life story of transformation.
Shares Sumeer, who made this 25-minute film along with Dr Vibha Taluja, general secretary of Ashiana and scriptwriter of the documentary, "Being born human is a blessing." But a child lost in poverty, neglect and ignorance lives a worthless human life. Monu had taken to drugs at a tender age because of the hardships in his family. His father, a rickshaw puller, was an alcoholic. When I first met Monu, he told me how he started buying solvent from local hardware shops, and sniffed it along with his friends."
For 30 days, Sumeer shot Monu. However, he gave the shelter home a miss for the next three months to give Monu time to transform. "Later, when I met the warden, Sheila, and some of Monu's friends and the president of the NGO, Major Gen Inderjit Dhillon, they all told me about the change in Monu. In fact, the boy narrated how his four-year long drug journey finally came to an end," adds Sumeer.
Next, the documentary maker plans to screen his short film at various forums to spread awareness on the issue. Sumeer lights up at the idea of showing it to rag pickers and beggars, saying, "I think that will definitely help change the lives of hundreds of Monu."
For the future, Sumeer plans to work on his next documentary which will be based on restoration of human dignity.