“Life can be as simple as you choose to make it”

“Life can be as simple as you choose to make it”

From running away from a home to becoming an internationally showcased and recognised photographer, if there is one thing that has kept Vicky Roy going, it is hope

Prachi Raturi Misra

“Once I wear what I wear, no one knows where it is from. It looks nice and that’s all that matters. I know how to carry things well,” he smiles his innocent smile.

Vicky Roy is talking of his regular haul from Chor Bazaar, a popular market in Delhi where one gets clothes and shoes and innumerable other things at throw away prices.

His dark eyes still have a bright twinkle, his smile warmth, and his tone a gentle simplicity to it.

To think that this young man was like one of the many children with clothes crying for a wash, matted hair, empty eyes and sometimes an emptier stomach, is difficult to fathom.

But Roy not just survived that but is also thriving.

Life, says Roy, can be as simple as you choose to make it. “I still remember the immense joy and sense of freedom as I and my friends played cricket using anything we found for props,” he shares.

Roy’s simple trick of staying content, has been looking at somebody less fortunate than him and it has always, invariably given him hope.

And it is hope that he wants to be seen through his pictures.

So be it the effortlessly captured shots of children playing carelessly for his much-loved series Bachpan or his current project with India Inclusion Foundation (IIF). With the tagline of ‘Everyone is good at something’, IIF has kickstarted a running photo campaign, which captures the lesser-known stories of PWDs (persons with disabilities). Roy is one the photographers and every time he meets someone he is photographing; he comes back renewed with hope and joy. For, despite their ‘disability’, the many wonderful people he has been capturing through the length and breadth of the country, it is their ability to do something that shines the brightest.

Over the years of his working life, Roy’s work has featured in leading magazines internationally. He has had lunch with Prince Edward at Buckingham Palace, held exhibitions abroad, published a book, been an Inc fellow, given motivational talks at Howard University, World Bank, Google and Facebook headquarters besides several others, has passport pages that have filled faster than he could ever dream and yet he likes to live life simply.

“I still travel by local buses in Delhi instead of taking an auto or car. It saves money and hassle,” he says matter of factly.

Rough start

Vicky confesses to a life posing challenges when he was a young boy.

Born and brought up in Purulia in West Bengal, Roy’s father was a small-time tailor who moved around with his sewing machine. With six more siblings and limited means, Vicky was moved to an uncle’s place. As a child, he remembers feeling angry and hurt to have been separated from his family.

When the uncle’s family began mistreating him over a period of time, Vicky knew he had to get out of the situation.

Open sky, friendships, great food on some days, not so great on others, life taught its lessons on its own terms and he learnt them well.

He was given a belly full of food but the humiliation served with the food didn’t help him. Beaten, bruised, abused, sent to a government school while his uncle’s son was sent to a school where he wore a clean shirt and got a table and chair. Vicky decided to run away.

With Rs 900 in his pocket, which he had stolen from his uncle, Vicky decided to take a train to Delhi because Calcutta was closer home and he didn’t want to live there anymore.

When he arrived at the New Delhi Railway Station, the 11-year-old boy didn’t know what to do. When he roamed around aimlessly, some other children spotted him and offered food given by some passengers. A friendship was struck.

Open sky, friendships, great food on some days, not so great on others, life taught its lessons on its own terms and he learnt them well.

So, he learnt to sell grabbed train seats for Rs 50, fill empty water bottles and selling them for Rs 5 in the general bogie, picking scrap to sell. But when he felt he needed to get away, Roy found work in a nearby dhaba. He scrubbed and cleaned and chopped till his fingers bled.

So, when a customer, who was a runaway himself, and who now worked in the development sector, told him about Salaam Balak Trust, Roy got all excited. His biggest lessons from those days, shares Roy was to look at people who were worse off than him and thank the maker for what he had and has.

What he also learnt, says Roy is that to break away from patterns that keep you where you don’t want to be, you have to make that decision to move. “Once you make that choice, half the work is already done,” the other half then, he says, is being consistent.

The same holds true for mental health.

A dream is born

With a soap to bathe with, clean clothes to wear, nutritious food to eat and a school to go to, Roy was living the life he had yearned for.

Six months later he moved to Apna Ghar, another SBT centre that literally became his home for the seven years he lived there.

Children went to school and at the centre, participated in activities like theatre, dance, and sports, Vicky finally saw a life that every child deserves.

In 2001 after he had passed Class 10 with 48 per cent marks, he realised studying was something he never really enjoyed. This is also when he met two boys at the centre who had done a photography course and gone to Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

Seeing Roy’s interest in photography he was given three rolls and a plastic camera. Whenever he clicked pictures of any child at the trust, they happily gave him Rs 5. He also saw respect in their eyes. And the decision was made. “I wanted to be a well known photographer someday and be well respected.”

His mind now fixated on photography, the universe saw the hunger. He met Dixie Benjamin, from the UK who was shooting pictures for a book on SBT. Roy became his assistant. When Dixie praised Roy saying he had a good eye and could do well, Roy only pushed himself harder even after Dixie went back, having trained the young boy in technical details as well.

At 18 when he had to leave Apna Ghar as the rule demanded, besides basic support, he was given an internship opportunity with Anay Maan, a photographer well known for his work especially his portraits.

His life from then seemed like one of the many movies he had seen. Maan groomed the young man in photography and his mannerisms. And the rest, like they say, is history.

His first exhibition was with the British High Commission. Drawing inspiration from his days as a street boy, Roy’s exhibition titled Street Dream was very successful in Delhi and then travelled to several countries. Roy has never looked back.

His biggest lessons from this phase, he said was to be willing to break the mould. Only doing new things leads to newer experiences. “I had so little to lose that whatever I got was pure luxury and joy and I savoured each experience.”

A principle, he still likes to live by. He keeps his living simple.

Finding joy

Has he never felt low, lost?

Of course, he has but what has helped him most, says Roy is being close to nature, simple people and never giving up what he loves most, photography in his case.

So however much possible, keep your life simple, enjoy the little things in life because they are the real treasure.

“I understand life is different now, people in cities are living insular, lonely lives. But try going to a village and you find joy comes from the smallest of things. The people in villages might not have much but they still have a sense of satisfaction and are always smiling. Compare that with people in the cities and there is so much they have to worry about. So however much possible, keep your life simple, enjoy the little things in life because they are the real treasure.”

In his days at the railway station, the means were limited but the joys from small things were huge, he shares.

Recently he went to Ahmedabad. A friend there has a photo lab and closes it every day at 5.30 to come and spend time with his family. “Of course, money is important but it is not all that is important. Relationships, family, friends, these are equally important.”

Roy went back home to Purulia shortly before he began his internship.

His father passed in 2008 but Vicky has made sure his family lives well. His mother lives in a well-equipped home. Two of his sisters are married and the other siblings are pursuing higher education.

As for him, Vicky goes where his work takes him and finds joy in the many faces around him.


Take five

Let them rough it out: Parents have to let the children rough it out a bit. Don’t always run to them for a small fall or bruise, let the child get up on his/her own.

Children have to learn to deal with things on their own, it prepares them for the world outside. Parents have to learn to toughen them up.

I roughed it out a bit much but I turned out just fine. Challenges harden us.

Give the child some freedom: It is important to oversee children but it is equally important to give them some amount of freedom.

I feel freedom has let me own up for my decisions.

Physical games: While I am all for technology and how it can help children in their future careers, overuse of technology is also taking away from children.

Physical sports not only help children stay active but also keeps one’s mind and body happy.

We played cricket with whatever we could find for a bat and ball (usually plastic packets rolled together) and had a brilliant time. Playing a physical sport always helped us feel very happy.

Limit junk food: Junk food is called junk for a reason. Eating good nutritious food is nourishing and helps you grow well.

I saw it for myself when I started getting better food.

In fact, even at the railway station, we ate paneer, dal, chicken, from trains like Rajdhani and Shatabdi that people gave and grew up well.

Don’t stop doing what you love: It is important to do something constructive that drives us even when we feel low.

The fact remains that doing that very thing will help us feel better. I remember I was going through a low phase and I had to go and do an assignment in the hills. But once I reached and kept clicking pictures, I started feeling better. Working helps us heal.