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Old Roedeanian and self-made millionaire Seema Sharma starred in a Channel 4 special, Slumdog Secret Millionaire, which was broadcast last night.
Seema left Roedean in 1985. After qualifying as a dentist, she made her fortune through some shrewd business decisions, most significantly setting up her own practice in London's Docklands when she was just three years out of training. She now presides over a chain of dental practices.
Living on a budget, her home for the duration of filming was Dharavi, Asia’s biggest slum, and the location of Danny Boyle’s Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire.
The sprawling shanty town houses a staggering one million of India’s poorest residents, in conditions that would make even the most deprived Westerner reel. There is no basic sanitation in much of Dharavi, and even the better off skilled workers in the more ‘desirable’ quarters still have to walk for hours to fetch drinking water.
So how did Seema come to be involved in a project like this? She had been approached to take part in the British version of the hit TV show, and was still considering whether to be featured when the producers told her about an Indian special.
‘That was immediately something I was intrigued by,’ she says. ‘I am a third generation migrant Indian. My grandparents come from the Punjab, but the family moved to Kenya, where my father worked for the British government, and where I was born. I lived there until I was 16, and came to the UK to go to Roedean.
‘Although I’ve visited India before, it was to tourist places like Goa and Kerala. When the chance came to see a side that even many Indians do not see, I thought, “This is something I have to do.”‘
‘The warmth they showed me was truly inspiring. I met one lady whose husband had to travel five miles every day to pick up one canister of water, yet she insisted on making me a cup of tea using water from that canister.
‘I came home believing in the idea of investing in education projects, like one which involves taking buses with teachers and teaching equipment around the slums, so that you could reach hundreds of children at a time, rather than concentrating on just one child.’