In 2006, I decided to return to India to follow my dreams of pursuing a career in Music from a Microbiology program at San Diego State University. It was challenging in many ways; living in villages, I was forced into adopting ways of living that I otherwise would not have been exposed to. I started realising the value of water, shelter and, most of all, community spirit. In 2010, my selection into a reality TV show in India called Sa Re Ga Ma Pa from Dubai, brought me to the beautiful city of Mumbai. I made a few more TV appearances, including Sur Kshetra in 2013. I sang professionally for various producers, including Bally Sagoo, internationally acclaimed music producer from the UK, for two of his international albums Future Shock & Cafe Punjab.
In 2011, I joined an organisation called Songbound, founded by Joe Walters from the UK. This organisation was committed to bringing music to various marginalised youth in Mumbai. I chose to visit Navjeevan, an organisation based in Kamathipura, the red light district in Mumbai. My perception of life changed when I saw the plight of the children of commercially sexually exploited women. These children had been stripped of their childhood. They had to erase their identities and start from scratch. They had to disconnect themselves from society for years to adopt this new identity and hence had to painfully detach themselves from their mothers, too. I spent a day at this refuge where they were sent and it broke my heart to see these children I had grown so fond of, go through such trauma early in life.
In 2012, I started providing music sessions at Prerana, an anti-trafficking organisation in Kamathipura. Here, I spent the next four years, building a choir and learning more about these children. As a woman, I was discouraged by family and friends several times to stop visiting Kamathipura but I persisted. Despite their abusive childhood, I found the youth at Prerana to have an unbreakable spirit and a will to do something meaningful in life and look out for each other. I remember during one of our songwriting sessions, several children agreed that their worst fear was being sold for money. I could not understand why, in such a developing and spiritual country as India, these children were lacking social support and why there was such stigma attached to the area. Something needed to change.
In 2018, I am a Community Music student at Wilfrid Laurier University in Kitchener-Waterloo, Canada, also aspiring to become a Music Therapist. I believe in the power of music; I saw its healing effects on the children, who also reported to their counsellors about how much peace and joy it brought to their lives. I have also been witness to numerous community music projects in KW, Canada, where marginalised communities have benefitted from cross-cultural exchanges. With the support of various organisations and community artists in Canada and in India, I decided to do the same for these deserving children of Mumbai’s red light area.
I want a future for the marginalised youth of today. I want them to see a world very different to theirs so they may transform themselves and break through the barriers and limitations imposed by society. I want them to become self-made, independent individuals with dignity, who can lead and inspire their communities going forward.
The Yuva Arts Project is dedicated to bringing together marginalised youth from various cultures to create change through the medium of arts. One person cannot bring about change. It takes a village to raise a child.
My sincere thanks to the YUVA team, Prerana, MT Space, our mentors, Reception House/Community Justice Initiatives, Healing of the Seven Generations, our collaborators & our generous donors and followers for their trust and support.