Prompt on the mail, he replies warmly, asking all the right questions.
After we’ve exchanged phone numbers, the messages are well worded and precise.
To think that this young man was not too many years ago looking for leftover food at New Delhi Railway station (NDLS), picking empty bottles refilling them with water and selling them, washing mounds of dishes at a roadside dhaba near Ajmeri Gate of NDLS, is difficult to believe.
But life has a way of throwing surprises, especially for the gritty ones. Vicky Roy is one such man. And a recent trip by the internationally published photographer to Uttarakhand made him think of the similarity between the state and his life. Some roads could look difficult in the beginning but they ultimately lead you to beautiful views.
Born to a tailor father and a thickly thin mother, Roy had six more siblings. With limited means, the family was clearly struggling so it was decided to send Vicky to his uncle’s house nearby.
That didn’t help the situation much. For he got food alright, but was also beaten up at the slightest of things. He was made to do most of the home chores. Tired of this life, the young boy ran away from his uncle’s house.
The fear of being caught made him take a train to Delhi. With nowhere to go, he became one of the many children at the station. Looking for leftover food, selling water, dealing with bullies became a way of life, one that he sadly, was not very happy with.
After a few months, he joined a dhaba near the station.
That is when a loyal customer, a home runaway himself who now worked at a centre for children told him about ‘Dropping Centre’ (a centre by Salaam Balak Trust, for older boys). “He told me I’d be sent to school, given food to eat and also taught some skills. I finally saw a ray of hope and decided to follow it,” shares Vicky.
He saw a bright new world. Children not just went to schools and got a stomachful of nutritious food but also learnt some empowering life skills like self awareness, empathy, critical thinking, creative thinking, not to forget problem solving and interpersonal relationship
Six months later, he was moved to Apna Ghar, another SBT centre which became his home for the seven years that he lived there.
In 2001 when Vicky passed class with 48 per cent he realised studies were not his thing. Instead he got interested in photography after he met two boys at the centre who had done a photography course and gone to Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
Seeing Roy’s interest in photography the centre gave Roy, three rolls and a plastic camera. Whenever he shot the picture of any centre mate, he was happily handed Rs 5 and a sizeable amount of respect. These gestures made Vicky decide on becoming a photographer, since it seemed a respectable profession.
Soon, U K photographer Dixie Benjamin, who was shooting photographs as for a book on SBT saw a bright assistant in Roy. With the risen self awareness and confidence, Roy learnt quickly.
When at 18, he had to move out of Apna Ghar as per rules; the centre helped him get an internship with Anay Maan, a photographer well known for his work especially his portraits.
This experience gave him another set of life skills, namely interpersonal relationship, effective communication besides of course creative thinking. Like every Indian boy who grew up on cinema, Roy, saw his life unfold like a movie. Just like the village boy being groomed to lay the duplicate role of a suave city man in a Bollywood flick, he was taught how to talk well, (unlike the rough addressing of street boys he was used to),use a knife and folk, look groomed. Soon Vicky had polished not just his professional skills but also acquired some crucial life skills.
It wasn’t too long after that his work was noticed, first in 2006 during the exhibition of his mentor when he met a gentleman from British High Commission who expressed interest in seeing Roy’s work.
Before Vicky knew, British High Commission had asked Vicky to work on an exhibition. Drawing inspiration from his days as a street boy, Roy shot with the street children in Delhi, each picture drawing from the life he had lived.
The exhibition titled Street Dreams after a successful show in Delhi, travelled to several countries. Today Roy’s work has featured in leading magazines internationally, he has had lunch with Prince Edward at Buckingham Palace, had exhibitions abroad, published a book, been an Inc fellow, given motivational talks at Howard university, World Bank, Google and Facebook headquarters.
“The idea is to keep at it”, he signs off.
–The story is a part of OneWorld – Dream a Dream Media Fellowships on Life Skills, 2018