How King Charles played a role in changing an Indian street child's life

Rajan Sharma was one of 14 homeless children from New Delhi who staged a mime show for the visiting British royal in 2003

Rajan Sharma is 26 and has a child of his own. His role in a 2003 production changed his life   Taniya Dutta / The National
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For Rajan Sharma, being chosen to take part in a children's theatre performance for the visiting future king of Britain was the turning point in his life that took him off the streets of New Delhi.

Mr Sharma, an orphan, was a homeless six-year-old in 2003, surviving by scavenging for scraps to sell when he was chosen by charity workers to take part in a mime show depicting street life for King Charles, then the Prince of Wales.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I was picked from the footpath and told that I have to perform for the prince. I was both nervous and happy,” Mr Sharma told The National.

Two decades later, he has a steady job and a an eight-month-old son.

The memory of the show he took part in for King Charles, whose coronation is on May 6, is vivid.

Mr Sharma was one of 14 children gathered from the Jama Masjid and Hanuman Temple areas of New Delhi by ActionAid, an international charity, to perform a 15-minute play titled Patri Par Bachpan, meaning “children on the street”, that reflected the struggles of homelessness.

The performance was in mime as the British royal could not understand Hindi and the children could not speak English.

“I played a policeman’s role — how they used to misbehave with us. Prince Charles was so engrossed in our performance that he did not even blink for a second,” Mr Sharma said.

“He watched the play and clapped for us at the end. I was scared of forgetting my act but when he clapped, I was very happy. We were thrilled that a royal gave us respect.

“He was very smart. He wore a pantsuit and had a flower in his pocket. He was very down-to-earth and treated us nicely,” he said.

Although King Charles might not be aware of it, the lives of the children who performed for him that day in October 2003 changed for the better thanks partly to the high profile afforded by his presence.

All of them received shelter and education with the help of charitable trusts and NGOs, and not only stayed together but also, with the help of volunteers, formed a theatre group called Jhamghat, meaning “crowd” in Hindi.

The group performed plays across the country to spread awareness of homelessness and child abuse, and in return received support from education institutions that led to them being able to receive vocational training.

“There may not be any direct financial support from him but because of Prince Charles, Jhamghat today is working with 300 children,” Amit Sinha, founder-director of Jamghat, told The National.

“When we used to tell people that these children have performed in front of him, they would listen to us and support the children,” he said.

“We even received a letter from his office after 10 years of establishing Jamghat. It is a big achievement for us.”

Mr Sharma now works as a cleaner at a restaurant in New Delhi, earning 15,000 rupees ($184) a month.

“I was a rag picker before I was picked for the play. I was not only rescued but also given a life of dignity. I am now working, making decent money and have a family,” he said.

“It is because of the royal that my life changed forever. If he wasn't here that day, I would not have been selected for the play. Now that he is a king, I will tell my friends that I was lucky to have seen him closely. It was a wonderful opportunity.

“I hope I can meet him again.”

Updated: May 02, 2023, 7:53 AM