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‘I hate the word Dalit’

india Updated: Feb 08, 2009 12:05 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi
Mayank Austen Soofi
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

His father is a sweeper. His grandfather was also a sweeper. His great-grand father too, was a sweeper. But he wants to be the world’s best saxophone player.

“When my mind is filled with tension, I play my saxophone and I feel fre

Sanjay Salwan 21
Education: School dropout
Goal: To be the world’s best saxophone player
On Mayawati: Will vote for her because “she is one of us”
sh,” says Sanjay Salwan, a 21-year-old school dropout. To be one of the best players, one needs hours of practice and that’s not possible in a two-room flat shared by seven family members. But you can always trust an artist to find his space.

Each day Salwan walks up to the edge of the colony, climbs the dump yard and walks over to his secret hideout — Bhooli Bhatiyari Park, a garden with overgrown grass and unwieldy trees. There, in the company of birds and stray dogs, Salwan plays ragas.

“I used to help papa sweep a Connaught Place block next to Plaza Theatre,” says Salwan. “But it was a ganda job and I stopped it once I learnt how to play the saxophone.” Dad doesn’t mind. “Each night papa repeats the same thing — padai karo, padai karo, padai karo.” The family was initially unsettled when the son took up the instrument but now dad advises that “if it has to be music, I should do it with full lagan”.

Even if it comes at a high price. Recently Salwan decided that he needed an imported saxophone that cost a bomb — Rs 50, 000. After it became clear that whatever the boy had made by playing in clubs and hotels was not enough, the family pitched in with the rest of the amount. Once bought, the ‘Made-In-USA’ saxophone was taken to a Hanuman mandir, blessed by the priest, and now everyone hopes that this brass instrument lifts the boy high in the world.

Taken out of its velvet case, unwrapped from the white silken cloth, the sax is beautiful to look at. Under the glint of the afternoon sunlight, its golden trumpet twinkles, just like Mayawati’s birthday jewels. “I love Mayawati and like to see her in nice clothes and costly jewellery,” says Salwan. He doesn’t object to what some call the UP chief minister’s ostentatious display of wealth. “She is one of us,” he says. “I hate the word ‘Dalit’, which signifies something low, and Mayawati, unlike other netas, says ‘apne log’, never ‘Dalit log’.”

No wonder this saxophone player is planning to vote for the BSP leader in the coming Lok Sabha elections. However, Mayawati’s ambition of becoming India’s next prime minister may have to wait. Salwan has more urgent priorities. “I want to play like Kenny G,” he says. “And I’m working on it.”