A strange silence inhabits early afternoons at Rahul Vidya Niketan’s dormitories. A silence loaded with anticipation. At this shelter for children of sex workers set up at Baruipur, on the outskirts of Kolkata, run by Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (a collective of 65,000 sex workers), the early hours of afternoons are when the wardens ready themselves for the rest of the day. “They arrive hungry from school (run by DMSC) and need to be fed. The younger ones have to be bathed too,” says Pintu Maity, a member of the committee. As the clock strikes 2 pm, children line up for their lunch (soya nuggets curry, rice and daal) and then head to their dorms for an afternoon nap.
All, except a gang of gaunt boys, who quickly change into jerseys and shorts. They rush to the adjacent field for their afternoon practice. “I tell them to take a break of half-an-hour before practising, but who will listen?” says coach Biswajit Majumdar, who has been with the school for the past four years. Among this group is 16-year-old Rajeeb Roy, son of Rekha, a sex worker associated with DMSC.
In the past few days, Roy has seen a stream of visitors from newspapers and television channels. He is one of the two boys from Kolkata to be selected by the renowned Manchester United football club to train with the U-21 team (the other being Arko Dey from Baranagar area of the city).
Next month, Roy will find himself in the Mecca of football — Old Trafford football stadium in Greater Manchester, England, and the home of Manchester United FC. He is going for a 15-day training session. Not a mean achievement for a boy who used to play barefoot at the BK Paul Avenue ground near Sonagachi, the red-light district in north Kolkata.
Sitting at the committee’s cramped Sonagachi office in Kolkata, Roy remembers his days spent in Asia’s largest red-light area. He points out his house, a narrow, grey building in the maze. “I used to live on the fourth floor of the building. My best friend, Kaushik Saha, lived on the third floor,” he says. As Roy dribbles a football on the terrace of the office and poses for our photographer, he looks worried. He tries to spin the ball on his finger but fails. “I don’t concentrate on these kind of skills. I am an attacker for my team,” he says. Eventually, Saha comes to his rescue. He spins the ball on his finger and then, delicately, like a chef handling a soufflé, transfers the ball from his fingers to Roy’s, whose abashed face lights up continued…