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The Street Performer Who Made Me See With New Eyes

08/01/2016 8:32 AM IST | Updated 18/09/2016 10:51 PM IST
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I want to tell you about one of the newest friends I have made here in India: Chetan. Chetan stays in Vangani, a suburb of Mumbai. He is a young dad, and lives in a humble home with his wife Radha and adorable baby twins. He's also a musician with an incredible passion for percussion, and a pretty good singer too.

Any of you who have been to Mumbai will probably agree that it is one of the most hectic, hustling cities in the world. And the epitome of this hustle is felt on the trains at rush hour. Millions of people roam the city, caught in a web of madness, requiring you to clutch your bag tightly lest the pickpockets catch them, relinquish any personal space you might enjoy, and accept that nothing can be done about the odd armpit in your face (true story).

Most of us ignore him. Most of us barely spare him a look, or a thought. Maybe out of guilt we give him a coin or two.

Welcome to Chetan's office.

Chetan is one of the numerous street performers of Mumbai. A talented musician who entertains masses on the trains. You won't usually find him playing at rush hour, but rather during the day when people have the space to breathe and hopefully appreciate his music. Whilst Chetan has now started recognising himself as an artist, most of us still view him as a beggar. Most of us ignore him. Most of us barely spare him a look, or a thought. Maybe out of guilt we give him a coin or two. Many of us get frustrated by the noise he makes on the train.

And for a long time, Chetan too saw himself through your lens.

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An awesome organisation, Swaradhar is restoring dignity to street performers like Chetan and providing them with platforms to perform

We spent the day on the trains with Chetan and then took the journey back to his home in Vangani. As we walked through his serene community, he cracked jokes and greeted his friends who worked at the various shops and stalls. Chetan was clearly a community man with a large circle of friends. We entered his home and were greeted by the cutest twin babies and Chetan's warm wife, Radha. It was a beautiful sight watching the two of them caress and play with their children and in time we got our turn too. Radha then began preparing dinner. She was quick, like most women I have met here. I gazed intently at how she sliced vegetables at laser speed, and managed multiple pots and pans at once -- one with rice, another with dal and a third with tea.

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The beautiful twins

Meanwhile, we sat chatting with Chetan, learning more about his life and sharing more about our own. He told us about how a lot of his time on the weekend is spent helping new people settle into the community and organising and coordinating blood drives amongst other community service events. It was fascinating hearing about his upbringing, about both the neglect and the love he has received from family. About how he lost his previous job and with no other option took to the trains to make a livelihood.

Oh, and did I mention, Chetan and Radha are also blind?

Oh, and did I mention, Chetan and Radha are also blind?

The first lesson Chetan and Radha taught me was the importance of being self-reliant. I would have never imagined a blind person would be able to cook on a stove, manage so many pots or even cut vegetables at such speed. I would have never imagined blind parents could raise children with such ease. Or manage a home without additional support. Chetan was a mirror to my own limiting assumptions about the world. And a beautiful example of how self-reliance and self-sufficiency is fundamental to developing self-confidence. This was something Chetan and Radha exemplified.

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Radha in the kitchen

The second lesson Chetan taught me was on self-acceptance. I assumed Chetan would see his blindness as a setback in his own life, but this wasn't the case at all. Chetan oozed with self-love and self-acceptance and made an active choice to accept his situation and choose to be happy. He told me quite plainly that complaining does no good for anyone, and really had no point. His outlook was clearly seen through how he was constantly cracking jokes, having a laugh, and choosing to recognise the beauty in his situations. Chetan didn't "wish he could see" as I thought he may have.

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Always so happy

Chetan reminded me that we don't need much to give. Chetan doesn't make a lot of money on the trains. His wife doesn't work. He has a family of four to look after. And he can't see. Yet he's out organising blood drives. He's organising community events. He's giving his time, his energy and passionately will tell you his ideas about how he thinks corruption can be eliminated and compassion can grow in our society. We can all give. We can all help. What more could each of us be doing?

For an insight into Chetan's life check out this video we have made for Better World Education:

Chetan never sat and "taught" me anything in the traditional sense. Like everything in this world, he was a mirror, revealing to me my own assumptions, judgements and limiting self-beliefs.

What are you seeing in the mirrors people hold up to you?

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