Shashikant Arde is 27 year old and lives in a chawl in Bhandup, West. Bhandup is located in the central suburbs of the city of Mumbai in Maharashtra.
“I have studied till Class 12,” says Shashikant, adding “I will enroll myself in a BBA course once the lockdown ends. I had always wanted to study but financial conditions at home never allowed me to.”
Shashikant’s father passed away when he was 10 years old. “My mother started working as a maid to feed and educate us. Despite the back-breaking work, she earned Rs. 8000 a month. We struggled for several years, eating lesser number of meals on some day and skipping meals on others. I have two elder sisters.” When he reached ninth standard in school, Shashikant began working at a garage. “In those days I used to make Rs. 10 for a full-day of work. In a year, I changed my workplace and joined another garage. They used to pay me Rs. 30 for 12-hours of work,” he remembers.
Those were tough days. Shashikant used to come back from school, eat a small meal, and head to the garage where he would repair cars and bicycles. He would get done by 11 o’ clock in the night. By the time he reached home, he would have no energy left to study. “I failed Class 10 because on most days I was too tired to even open my books,” he rues.
In the next garage where he joined, Shashikant made Rs. 50 a day. He enrolled himself in a night school to give his 10th standard examination again. He passed and went on to complete 12th. On completing his school education, he took up a job with a retail food joint as a pizza delivery boy. “My salary was Rs. 8000 a month but it was a raise from what I used to make working in the garage. It was a relief for my family too. I had taken a loan to pay for my elder sister’s marriage and I could finally pay it off with my earnings,” he explains.
But Shashikant had to give up on college because his salary wouldn’t be enough for the fees.
At work, a friend informed him about Magic Bus, urging him to ‘enroll because he had heard good feedback from those who had been a part of it’. “I was apprehensive about going to an organisation offering skilling courses along with placement. I had explored many such options earlier and every single one came with a huge fee. Someone like me can never afford such courses,” he shares. He was surprised when he learnt there are no fees. Instead the trainer wanted to know more about him – his likes and dislikes and what he wanted to be.
“We were given all kinds of inputs. From learning to speak in English to using the computers to learning to communicate – we were trained on skills that matter. And in a way – through games and activities - that allowed us to enjoy the process of learning. I remember how each of us in that batch came to become friends when we were all vying for jobs and should have been competitors,” says Shashikant. He was surprised at the patience of the trainers in the programme. “Each of us was at different levels when it came to learning, but our trainer was surprisingly patient with us. She would always encourage us and believe in us. For young people like us who have seen a great deal of struggle in our lives, this mentorship is unforeseen,” he explains.
When Shashikant was informed of an opportunity with Marks and Spencer he was sure he couldn’t make it. “I googled every last detail about M&S. It would be the best opportunity for me but I was scared of keeping high hopes. I was sure others would do much better. But the Magic Bus trainer kept pushing me to do my best. She was sure I would get it,” he says with a lingering laugh.
Shashikant was among the young people from Magic Bus Livelihood Centre at Dharavi who were offered an internship at Marks & Spencer. Called the Marks and Start programme, young people selected for this internship receive rigorous training and inputs on customer service, retail sales, visual merchandising, cashiering, back of house stock management, and administration. They are assigned a Buddy, a mentor working in M&S who helps them learn the ropes. For Shashikant, the paid internship of Rs. 7000 a month had an importance beyond money – he saw it as a stepping stone for a career in retail sales. He left his job and begun his internship. In February 2020, he received a formal offer of employment to work at the Marks & Spencer outlet in a mall in Mumbai. “Every day of the training at Marks & Spencer was eventful. They took care of our learning curve. I was determined to make the most of the opportunity that came my way. I was expecting them to offer me a job. I had learnt to believe in myself,” he shares.
Within a month of his joining, India entered a lockdown to prevent the spread of the insidious COVID-19 which was creating havoc in the world. Shashikant’s mother lost her job as a domestic worker. But with Shashikant’s salary of Rs. 20,600 a month the family averted another critical crisis. “I am so proud of being able to support my family with my salary,” he says with gratification.
“While growing up I heard that Class 10 and 12 would be the turning point of our lives. We had to give our best or lose out. The turning point of my life was when I walked into the Magic Bus Livelihood Centre in Dharavi, completely unsure of myself and the decision I was taking. For me, this is where my story began,” he signs off.Back