Mumbai: With an audacious faith in the city of dreams, 12-year-old Debraj Bhattacharya busks at Veer Nariman Road by Churchgate Station, singing old and new Bollywood hits with a six-string strapped around his shoulders. Debraj, who stands slightly taller than his guitar, performs with a baseball cap by his feet in the hope of raising a sum that will take him to Berklee College of Music, a renowned private institute in Boston. Youngsters on dates, people running to catch trains, music aficionados, and those who melt at the sight of this child, toss a few notes in the baseball cap to aid his cause.
The crowds that gather around him are of all ages, but many are young. The people sing with young Debraj and sway to the tune. One person told The FPJ that it feels good to listen to the singer before getting into the maddening crowd of the Churchgate local to Borivali.
Debashish Bhattacharya the boy’s father, who once worked with the post-production crew at Yash Raj Films, always stands in the corner, guiding his son, gesturing for him to open up his voice, sing the right songs, and smiling at the audience. After losing his wife, Debashish and a two-year-old Debraj moved from Naigaon to Andheri, where Debraj finished his first-grade schooling at Hansraj Morarji Public School, Andheri. He then attended the Seva Sadan Society Primary School on Grant Road till his third grade.
Debraj performs with a baseball cap by his feet in the hope of raising a sum that will take him to Berklee College of Music | Swapnil Sakhare
In 2019, when the pandemic struck, Debraj left his schooling midway and travelled with his father from Mumbai to West Bengal, where he joined another school in Kharagpur. After the pandemic eased, the two started residing in a hotel, while Debraj attended St Thomas Day School till grade 5. He began singing at the famous Park Street in Kolkata to make money in those difficult times.
He arrives at Churchgate by 06:30 each evening and earns between Rs700 and Rs1,200 each day. | Swapnil Sakhare
“My father signed me up for guitar classes when I was ten. I would mumble my songs while performing on Kolkata streets. I couldn't even hear my own voice! Then one day I met another busker who let me perform with him, taking away all my stage fright,” Debraj says.
The two returned to Mumbai in the second half of 2022 without a house or a school, spending nights by Marine Drive or sleeping at railway stations till an acquaintance lent a house in Virar to Debashish. Debraj, who is yet to get admission to a school in Virar, spends most mornings practising notes, making makeshift drums, or listening to Yanni on YouTube. He arrives at Churchgate by 06:30 each evening and earns between Rs700 and Rs1,200 each day.
“We lost Debraj’s mother when he was only two years old. As a single parent, I have a hard time getting Debraj admitted to school,” says Debasish, who has turned to paint to earn his daily bread.
Learning the piano and violin is in store for the child before he makes his way to Berklee | Swapnil Sakhare
The musical prodigy still misses troubling teachers at schools and creating a beat on classroom benches. “Practice is very boring at times. Holding one note for an hour makes me yawn. It is much more fun when I try to create something on my own,” says Debraj, who is working on his first piece, which talks about the joy of success. The young singer is determined to go to Boston to learn music. “Berklee or nothing,” says Debraj, who heard of this college from his father and from the little internet search that he engages in.
Debashish has been chalking out his son’s musical journey from the beginning. Learning the piano and violin is in store for the child before he makes his way to Berklee, said the father. “I have heard the Berklee group sing on YouTube. I have heard that it has the best teachers in the world,” gushes Debraj.
Debraj began singing at the famous Park Street in Kolkata | Swapnil Sakhare
The management of some restaurants around Churchgate and other places did raise an objection when Debraj sang outside the establishments. They did not like the idea of bystanders giving away money. The pavement is not the property of the restaurant owners but still he has been checking around for relevant permissions if he needs to take them, Debashish says.
Till then, if you are rushing to catch your train at Churchgate Station, tarry a while and listen to the music. Debraj's voice will turn your travel into a song.
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