At the Food Cart Festival…
When Raju reached the mela, the people were already starting to leave.
It had been a novel idea, the mela… a food cart festival to celebrate the youth committee’s anniversary.
Raju, who sold chaats at the ground even on other days, had expected to make a profit that day, but his son had fallen ill.
“It might be typhoid,” the doctor had said. Raju had waited for his relatives to come, but by that time, night had fallen, and he knew in his heart that the fair would be nearly over.
He also knew that every rupee he earned would be needed for Shyam’s treatment, so he hurried toward his cart which he had sent ahead.
Looking at it, Raju stopped in his tracks. There was a big crowd in front of his cart.
“Buy three plates of bhel, and get two momos free,” the voice behind it was shouting. As he stepped toward the cart again, he saw the smiling face of Jalil.
Seething that “that momo man” was doing business with his cart, Raju shouted, “Oye, Jalil!”
The smile didn’t fall from Jalil’s face though.
“Deal closed! Raju bhai has come. Sorry!”
Ignoring the groans of the crowd, Jalil closed the tin box and moved away from the cart.
“This is the earnings from your cart,” he said, pressing the tin box into Raju’s hand.
When the last of the crowd left, Raju went near the entrance where Jalil stood behind his small cart.
When he saw Raju, he smiled. “Did you eat something?” he asked.
Only then did he remember that he hadn’t. With Shyam’s sudden fever, he hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. Before he could reply, Jalil opened the vessel and put seven of his momos on a plate, put some mustard sauce on it and gave it to him.
“Eat. We can talk after.”
A shuffle of feet behind made the two of them turn around. A small boy stood there, and was about to run off seeing Raju. But Jalil shook his head and he stood still.
“Appu told me about Shyam. Is he okay?” Jalil asked.
Raju shook his head, and having nothing to say, ate silently.
“You use the money from today for his treatment. Your cart was on demand as always. It’ll be okay,” Jalil smiled, trying to cheer him up. But Raju was still silent.
“Shall I give you some more?” Jalil asked, seeing Raju’s plate was empty.
When Raju shook his head, he put the vessel inside the cart, patted him on the shoulder and started to move away.
“Thank you!” Raju shouted after him, finding his voice at last.
“Take care, dost!” Jalil waved, half turning.
Raju turned toward his assistant Appu.
“Jalil bhai had sent me to dukaan to buy more things,” he told, softly.
“How many momos he sold?” Raju asked.
“One plate; or maybe two. He sold more of our chaats. Said he could sell momos anytime, but Shyam needed the money more today.”
Looking at the fast receding silhouette of Jalil in the distance, Raju wondered.
Had a few missed hours helped him find a friend he had missed for so many years?
(© 3rd April 2015)