The New Dalit – Sanjay Salwan, Valmiki Sadan

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The New Dalit – Sanjay Salwan, Valmiki Sadan

He wants to be the world’s best saxophone player.

[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]

His father is a sweeper. His grandfather was also a sweeper. His great-grand father too, was a sweeper. But he wants to be the world’s best saxophone player.

“When my mind is filled with tension, I play my saxophone and I feel fresh,” says Mr Sanjay Salwan, a 21-year-old school dropout Dalit who lives in Delhi’s Valmiki Sadan, popularly known as Dalit Colony. (This story is first of a five-part series – The New Dalit, The Changing World of Delhi’s ‘Untouchables’.)

However, to be one of the best players, one needs hours of practice and that’s not possible in a two-room flat shared by seven family members. But you can always trust an artist to find his space.

Each day Mr Salwan walks up to the edge of the colony, climbs the dump yard and walks over to his secret hideout — Bhooli Bhatiyari Park, a garden with overgrown grass and unwieldy trees. There, in the company of birds and stray dogs, Mr Salwan plays ragas.

“I used to help papa sweep a Connaught Place block next to Plaza Theatre,” says Mr Salwan. “But it was a ganda job and I stopped it once I learnt how to play the saxophone.” Dad doesn’t mind. “Each night papa repeats the same thing — padai karo, padai karo, padai karo.”

The family was initially unsettled when the son took up the instrument but now dad advises that “if it has to be music, I should do it with full lagan.” Even if it comes at a high price. In 2008 Mr Salwan decided that he needed an imported saxophone that cost a bomb — Rs 50, 000. After it became clear that whatever the boy had made by playing in clubs and hotels was not enough, the family pitched in with the rest of the amount.

Once bought, the ‘Made-In-USA’ saxophone was taken to a Hanuman mandir in nearby Paharganj, blessed by the priest, and now everyone hopes that this brass instrument lifts the boy high in the world.

Taken out of its velvet case, unwrapped from the white silken cloth, the sax is beautiful to look at. Under the glint of the afternoon sunlight, its golden trumpet twinkles, just like Mayawati’s birthday jewels. Mayawati is India’s most popular Dalit leader, often disdained in upper caste Delhi living rooms as a corrupt politician.

“I love Mayawati and like to see her in nice clothes and costly jewellery,” says Mr Salwan. He doesn’t object to what some call Mayawati’s ostentatious display of wealth. “She is one of us,” he says. “I hate the word ‘Dalit’, which signifies something low, and Mayawati, unlike other netas, says ‘apne log’, never ‘Dalit log‘.”

However, politics is not a major concern for our sax player. Mr Salwan has more urgent priorities. “I want to play like Kenny G,” he says. “And I’m working on it.”

At Bhooli Bhatiyari Park

The New Dalit – Sanjay Salwan, Valmiki Sadan

Play on, Sir

The New Dalit – Sanjay Salwan, Valmiki Sadan

Solitude… well, almost

The New Dalit – Sanjay Salwan, Valmiki Sadan

On the rooftop

The New Dalit – Sanjay Salwan, Valmiki Sadan

Look here, please

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In the Children’s Park

The New Dalit – Sanjay Salwan, Valmiki Sadan

Back to Bhooli Bhatiyari

The New Dalit – Sanjay Salwan, Valmiki Sadan

Good luck, Mr Salwan

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