The sky was an opened faucet few moments back. The tar black clouds have passed away and behind the light gray linings, crimson red rays of the setting sun are peeping in. The wind is still strong but promises to calm down. It is that time of the day, when Adil needs to prepare himself for the long evening ahead. As he gently pushed the cart to the road, he realized over the years, his enthusiasm has gone down considerably. The cart was neatly designed with a red cloth in the base enhancing its beauty and fairly clean, keeping in mind the hygienic conscious new generation Indians. However Adil knew that these brands of food is a perennial business in India and has its own appeal amidst the high rise.
The food cart was the only cherished asset in Adil’s life other than his wife’s memories. He needed to walk down at least 2000 meters’ before he reached his regular spot near Bandra Fort, where he sold his Potpourri - Bhelpuri, Papri Chaat and Gol guppah which was hot cake among college going crowd. His food helped to spice up the evening of those loves –struck couples. Watching them, he was reminded of his younger days, when he was new in the city which was known as Bombay then. Taking a deep breath, he recollected his journey from Bombay to Mumbai.
Suddenly, he chanced upon a street fight at the corner of the road where it bends towards dead end. Couples of kids were mercilessly beaten by College students and three other kids tried to defend their friends. An overdose of abusive verbose was on flow, when a kid was being slapped and pushed in the road. Adil left his cart to intervene. The men got violent and pushed him but he valiantly defended those kids from getting hurt. Soon he gained support from local public in driving those goons away.
As he cleaned up his bruises, dolts from his memories were out in open. Adil had lost his son in one of those random street fights seven years back which claims so many lives in Mumbai every day. His bruised body lay for 8 hours before Adil came to know. It was too late by then when police informed. While his son’s killers were never caught , Adil never cared for it either. He had lost him to the harsh realities of life long back. His son had big dreams and chose short cuts to achieve those.
After a brief distraction, it was time to concentrate on his day’s business. He saw those 5 kids standing just behind him. At this tender age, their faces had a stark story to tell. Their eyes were simmering with tears as if someone had touched their chords for the first time. They rushed to hug Adil. This sudden gesture of warmth had taken back the man deprived of love of past few years. He smiled first but later rebuked them for their behavior and warned them against fighting in the future.
The kids thanked him for his concern and also expressed their anguish for being an orphan in this world. For the first time in years, he felt human again. He felt loved and important. For those kids Adil was a hero. His wife, even in her last days, told him to be live life positively with the happy memories, before she finally succumbed to cancer.
He offered the kids some food from his cart.
The kids looked at each other and refused saying they were not hungry. But their eyes reflected otherwise.
Adil understood their predicament, smiled and said “If you guys like this food, you can tell this people around here and then my food will sell”. The kids looked convinced and accepted the food. In no time they gobbled it up. Satisfied, they introduced themselves one by one. Meena, Bittoo, Gudiya, Aslam and Raja. Meena was the youngest and Aslam was like their eldest brother. Since they had no one whom they could call their own, they have grown to be each other’s family. The pavements of Mumbai were their home to sleep at night and the signals their workplace to make their living. In the evening, they came to this place to play and also if they could earn a little more.
But from that day, Adil too became their extended family. After work hours, late evening, Adil would sit with them and narrate tales of his childhood and his dream to come to Bombay from Sultanpur in UP. And how fate changed in the City of Dreams - Bombay. He would tell them story of famous Bollywood heroes who made it from rags to riches. And how he met his princess called Nikhat who changed her life forever.
Young Nikhat was also born out of the streets of Mumbai. She got to learn magic from a fellow peddler, which became her profession when she grew up. She made a living by performing at Gateway of India. Her shows were popular among kids. And that’s where Nikhat met Adil. Love blossomed and they got married. Nikhat and Adil worked tirelessly, not only to make their two ends meet but to buy a Kholi, before they could start their family.
Nikhat was source of strength to young Adil. She ensured he was a fighter. They wanted their best for their son but despite their best efforts, they lost their son to street crimes. Adil saw Nikhat break down post their son’s death and gradually faded away to oblivion. Adil had mortgaged his Kholi to borrow money for her treatment, which is yet to be repaid fully till date.
The kid’s voice brought him back to present. They were looking to hear the story of the princess called Nikhat. Adil always narrated the happy stories of his life to them. And most stories involved Nikhat. Kids were excited and demanded to meet her.
Adil promised some day she would come and give them lot of love and gifts. At night, when sound of the waves would grow, he would point at them and that Life is just like sea, and it always gives back what it takes. He ensured that the hope and dreams in these kids life never got lost. The young kids would stare at him while listening to his stories and often hug him, as if Life has given him as their gift. He loved them as his own child.
Six months have passed since then. Adil had managed to put Rajaa, Meena and Guddu in Municipal school, with help of some support. And that ensured their mid-day meal as well. Aslam and Bittoo still had to earn their living but had promised Adil they will never gamble again.
On Diwali night, Adil took them to show magic in the sky at Marine Drive. It was an artistic display of scintillating fireworks and the sky had turned into rainbow of colors. As if some magician was painting it with light. Mesmerized Meena asked innocently “Abba, when we will magic happen in our lives”.
He smiled and replied “On the Christmas Day, my fairy Nikhat will send Santa Claus to you all and fulfill your dreams”. Adil instructed them to write their secret wish so that he can send it to his fairy and get it for them. The kids looked at each other, discussed and then Guddu wrote it in piece of paper and gave it to Adil. Nikhat had told him about how older men in garb of Santa Claus, fulfilled dreams of kids.
Adil was unwell for last couple of months. He had a promise to keep. Thoughts of fulfilling their promise kept troubling him. Their dreams and hope became his objective in life. More he feared another Aslam or Bittoo dying in the streets. He missed Nikhat. She would have patted her back and given her confidence. But this fifty year old man had an important battle to fight for him and these kids.
Two days before Christmas, Adil met the kids. Meena, Rajaa was excited to show him that they had learnt how to write A to Z and 1 to 100 completely. Adil looked pale. They did not understand but knew something was not alright. Scared, Aslam hugged him. He felt a sense of security. He has been the guardian of these kids all these years but for the first time he felt like having a guardian too. Adil tried to drift their attention by gifting their Christmas dresses, which they promised to wear on Christmas night.
Christmas Eve was night of celebrations. Young smiling faces flocked everywhere. One of the kindest men of the world was born this day. The streets and the church , looked beautiful in their lights and color. One could hear the Christmas choir round the corner.
As promised, kids reached their destination, well before mid-night and waited with baited breath for their surprise to unfold. On the way, they had seen Santa Claus so they wondered how they will identify their Santa.
It was well past midnight and there wasn’t trace of Abba or Santa Claus. Disappointed as they planned to return, they saw a tall man in a red cloak and beard all over the face, smiling at them from a distance. They rushed towards him and asked about Abba. He leaned forward to handover chocolates and kissed them softly. He asked them to follow him quietly. They were driven down to a narrow lane, down a bridge. Santa asked them to close their eyes. When they opened their eyes, they found themselves in a well-decorated room, with red-lights and gifts on table. And right above the table, they saw photo of Abba with a lady. Santa softly whispered in their ears “This is what you wished for. A home for you all where you can stay with your Abba”.
They screamed with joy. They had a new home. They had to no more sleep on roads. They hugged Santa and wondered if Santa was their Abba after all. Santa looked at them and said Abba has gone to meet his fairy Nikhat and he will take care of them till he comes back. As kids got engrossed themselves in opening the gifts, Santa left the room teary eyed, wondering if the happiness of the kids were momentary.
Adil had passed away the night he last met the kids. He was suffering from tuberculosis. He knew he would not survive but he was determined to fulfill their wish.
And only way he could was to give them his Kholi. But he had to repay loan for that. Nikhat had handed over some of mother’s jewellery to him and asked him to use it when he needed it. Adil had preserved it for so many years like a guarded treasure. But he knew that was the only means by which he could get his Kholi back. Nikhat’s soul would also be happier knowing that it meant providing home to few street kids. He not only repaid his loan but with help of his best friend Asfar, he ensured the Kholi was transferred to these kids and assigned his best friend as their custodian. He knew his end was near and hence had planned Christmas for the kids in advance and in case, he failed to make it Asfar would on his behalf. He did not allow death to come between him and the dreams he promised to the kids.
Asfar wondered if Adil couldn’t fulfill their second dream of staying with them. But then he knew that the souls of Adil and Nikhat were bestowed in that home forever. He looked at the sky and thanked Allah for allowing him to fulfill this great act of kindness of Adil. Kids will probably not know for long that Adil is gone forever, for them he was the peddler of their dreams which will remain in their heart forever. And for other things, Santa Claus is there to take care of them. After all act of kindness do not need any face, it just needs good intentions and faith.