Fetching up in Kolkata on Howrah station the boy joined the little crew of lost and abandoned children who live in and around the station, eking out an existence by begging, stealing and trading. From time to time Sanjay would board a departing train and spend weeks travelling around India as a stowaway honing the survival techniques learned from his infancy. Life on the station platform is hard: the small boys are vulnerable to violence, abuse, exploitation and theft. They learn to trust nobody and to live on their wits.
And it was on the platform of Howrah Station that this boy’s life chances changed forever. Tim Grandage of Future Hope makes regular visits to Kolkata’s station platforms, always in the depths of night when the station sleeps but the resident children are awake. It took more than a single conversation, more than a single visit for Tim to persuade the boy that he could be trusted, and that a home, an education and medical aid were things that the boy could possibly want or need. Eventually the boy agreed to go, persuaded by friends who had already joined FH.
Over the next few years the boy couldn’t or wouldn’t settle. Countless times he ran away and had to be brought back. He resisted the education on offer and couldn’t bear the discipline. Tim and the other FH staff persevered: the boy went to lessons in the morning and was bussed to the maidan to learn to play rugby in the afternoons. Gradually Sanjay began to see that where he was struggling with the schoolwork, he was pretty good on the sports field. In fact he was one of the best and this brought him respect and approval. He ran away less and less often and eventually settled down.
Sanjay’s rugby career went from strength to strength: the Future Hope team would beat the other Kolkata schools, and then it began to beat schools in other parts of India. When they beat the Kolkata police team, Future Hope was invited to take over the coaching of the police. Sanjay was a fully committed rugby player playing for many years as first choice scrum half for Future Hope and winning the Calcutta Cup three times with them. He was always interested in coaching and on leaving school joined the Bengal Rugby Union as a part-time Development Officer.
Soon after he also started to work as coach to a new Kolkata team, the Jungle Crows. Sanjay managed these two jobs successfully and in 2007 was selected to spend 6 weeks in New Zealand to develop his coaching and refereeing.
10 years after boarding that first train and being carried away from his family, Sanjay was ready to find them again. Martin Graham of Future Hope offered to help. Each weekend Martin and Sanjay would take a train into the Delta region to see if the boy recognised his village. Each weekend they took a new route and asked everybody they met if they knew a woman with a blind mother who had lost a small son about 10 years before. After several weeks of searching someone did recognise the description and Sanjay was reunited with his overjoyed mother. He stayed a while with his mother, who was still desperately poor and still lived on the margins of society, but he eventually decided to return to Kolkata to continue with his education and his rugby. However he was able to send home small amounts of money and to visit regularly. Sanjay's help enabled her to set up her own small business and to buy a home. She grew to be respected in her village and eventually announced that she had found a bride for her son. Her name is Lakshmi. The wedding was a triumph – dozens of the Sanjay’s Kolkata friends travelled out to the village. It must have been a day she could hardly have dreamed of.
Sadly Sanjay’s mother became ill soon after the wedding, but the young couple were able to bring her into the city to care for her. She died in 2010, just a few months before the birth of her first grandchild, a boy, Suman.
Suman is now a year old but his dad missed his early weeks as he was away on business. He was assistant coach to the Indian National Rugby Team for the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi. Currently Sanjay was coach to the Future Hope Harlequins Rugby Team.