As a five-year-old working in a canteen, Amin Shaikh couldn’t understand why customers would slap him on the back of his head while asking him to bring a cup of tea, instead of verbally placing the order. When he couldn’t take the abuse by his stepfather and mother with whom he lived in a Malad slum, he ran away from home and started living at railway stations. He took to begging and sexual assaults became routine.
After spending three years in an orphanage, when on Monday, 36-year-old Shaikh opened his own plush cafe at Marol in Andheri, dignity of human life was at the top of his mind. He insists that his cafe, named Bombay to Barcelona Library Cafe, will change the way we live.
“It was my dream to start a cafe because I am appalled by the kind of food we eat today: packaged, frozen and unhealthy,” he said.
If you can’t afford the Rs70 espresso, there will be a cutting chai counter outside. He also has free cookies for children wandering into his shop.
Shaikh, who dropped out of school after Class 7, also wants education for everyone. But he has a different idea of education. “Today, all that educated men want is to get a one bedroom-hall-kitchen flat, a steady job, a car and a wife. But no one thinks about lifting other people up,” he said, pointing out that the employees at his cafe have grown up on streets and orphanages.
“There was a time when people who didn’t have formal education, took pride in their culinary and other skills. The cafe will give these youngsters a chance to create their own identity,” he said.
The cafe is Shaikh’s journey in life. Soon after he left Sneha Sadan, the orphanage which found him and took care of him, he found employment with Eustace Fernandes, the adman who created the famous ‘Utterly Butterly Delicious’ tagline for Amul.
Fernandes became a father-figure for him. One Christmas eve, he demanded a trip to Spain as a present, which Fernandes granted him after some reluctance.
According to Shaikh, the trip to Barcelona in Spain turned out to be life-changing. “It broadened my perspective and showed me that there’s a whole world out there,” he said.
Soon, his love for visiting new places and meeting new people translated into Sneha Travels, a travel agency he started while still working for Fernandes. The work, and his autobiography ‘Bombay Mumbai: Life is Life, I am because of you’, which he self-published in 2003, brought him in touch with several foreign nationals who helped him realise his dream of owning a cafe.