A waste picker-turned-banker

The story of Sandeep is a testament of human perseverance. What kept him going was his dream of some day working in the bank that he looked at every day while scavenging for food.
Sandeep Kumar along with wife Rajeswari and children, Harshi and Sahasra.
Sandeep Kumar along with wife Rajeswari and children, Harshi and Sahasra.

VIJAYAWADA: Life was no bed of roses for Seelam Sandeep Kumar, who was abandoned by his parents at the age of six. What kept him going was his dream of some day working in the bank that he looked at every day while scavenging for food from a dustbin near a restaurant in Vijayawada.

His mother, Parvathi was from Kadapa district. She married Sunil, a native of Kolkata. Sandeep was born in Mumbai and raised in Kolkata. However, his mother brought him back to Kadapa when he was just 3, due to harassment by her husband. Parvathi handed over a six-year-old Sandeep to her relatives and left without a word.

Sandeep had faced abandonment, rejection and neglect at a very young age. His relatives refused to send him to school, citing financial constraints. He then resolved to earn money to pay for his education. He boarded a train to Tirupati, climbed the Alipiri steps, and ate prasadam distributed by other devotees for sustenance. Language was a challenge as Sandeep was fluent in both Marathi and Bengali and not Telugu.

He earned money by selling coconuts at the Dwajasthambam in Tirumala. Unfortunately, it was stolen while he was asleep. After having starved for three days, a devotee offered him a free meal token for Anna Prasadams at the temple.

He came to Vijayawada on learning that the Navajeevan Bala Bhavan in the city provided accommodation to orphans. He then began working at a hotel near the railway station. Sandeep found himself right back at square one after the person he entrusted his earnings with fled the orphanage. He then began working with labourers near Eluru canal. He had sustained injuries in a road accident and was admitted to a hospital for treatment. Following this, he joined an Orphan School in Pezzonipet with the help of Thomas Kaushy, founder of Navajeevan. He excelled in the Class X exams at RCM High School.

During his free time, he swept train carriages and collected plastic as a waste picker. Sometimes, he also had to beg to make ends meet.

He was able to join Sarada College for intermediate education. Unfortunately, he failed the exams. While dealing with the curveballs life threw at him, Sandeep learnt how to dance. This helped him earn money as he began teaching dance.

When a film director encouraged him to test his luck in the film industry, he went to Hyderabad and became an assistant to a dance master in Hyderabad. As Sandeep did not find any success even three years after working in the film industry, he returned to Vijayawada from Hyderabad.

As he began settling down in life, he met Rajeswari and later married her, but not without facing challenges. Rajeswari’s parents refused to get her married to an orphan. To prove that he was not an orphan, he searched for his mother across the country and luckily found her in Salem, Tamil Nadu.

He thus gained the approval of Rajeswari’s parents and married her. They are now parents of two children, Sahasra and Harshi.

After getting married, he pursued an MBA through distance education while working part-time and gaining knowledge of the stock market. He secured a job at Kotak Bank (Securities wing) in Vijayawada.

Reflecting on his journey, the 37-year-old reminisces, “Now, as I gaze through the bank’s windows, I can see the spot near Sweet Magic where I once scavenged for discarded cakes”

In a bid to give back to the society, Sandeep, along with his friends from Navajeevan, formed a WhatsApp group titled ‘Fruits from Navajeevan’ to support orphans like him. Sandeep told TNIE, “We have mobilised funds to provide support to those facing challenges like we did. We are committed to ensuring that no child is deprived of education due to financial constraints.”

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The New Indian Express