Children dream big. They all do. But for Sajjak Ali, son of a sex worker, restraint comes easy. All the 13-year-old wanted was a job to sustain his family. Football, till then, was fun you had at school.
Until, he casually went for the Bengal under-14 trials on December 21 last year.
“By a strange stroke of luck, I was selected,” Ali said. He then became part of the team that won the national under-14 football festival in Jamshedpur last month. “The change has been rapid. The feeling has not yet sunk in,” Ali, a central defender, said sheepishly.
While this young Mohun Bagan fan gets up, goes for morning practice, prays, eats and attends school at Rahul Vidya Niketan, his 35-year-old mother and some 10,000 other sex workers start work at Sonagachi in north Kolkata, the city’s largest red-light area.
The children’s shelter is in Ramnagar, some 40 kilometres away from Kolkata and is run by Durbar, an NGO.
Being the son of a sex worker, Ali’s faced rejection early in life. “That’s why I wanted to get a job as soon as possible, but football has changed everything.”
“I topped my class for almost four years,” said the eighth grade student who “loves” English and mathematics. “Till the tournament happened in January. For the first time, I couldn’t sit for my exams but my teachers will let me pass I know,” Ali said.
Eight years ago, neither Ali nor his mother knew for sure that he would even start school.
“I remember Ma had trouble getting me admitted as teachers didn’t want a sex worker’s son in class.
I was also the first person to be admitted to this shelter after it opened in May 2002.” Before school, Ali stayed with his grandmother in Barasat, a northern suburb nearly 25km from city centre.
Even now, that’s where he goes during holidays.
“Ali’s mother took a lot of pains to ensure he grew up like a normal boy,” said Rumpa Mistry, teacher in charge of the shelter, which only houses children of sex workers. There are 50 children now.
“It’s difficult at times for Ma but she always ensures that she is there for me during the summer vacations and Durga Puja,” said Ali.
“I have always wanted to ask her to leave the profession but till date, couldn’t muster courage. She must have had her reasons.
“She was very happy after we won and even came to receive me at the railway station. She was crying a lot that day but asked me to pursue my dreams.”
His ambition: “To don the India jersey some day.” The one moment of joy he is looking forward to: “The day I can take care of Ma so that she doesn’t have to back there again.” Sajjak Ali’s pursuit of happiness has just begun.