By-lane Dreamers – Debalina Haldar

Theme: Like a Moth To A Flame

The sun was shining brightly on the by-lanes of Kolkata. The footpath emerged with a fresh new glow as the winter morning bathed with the golden rays of the mighty sun. The fresh new glow had brought about an urge for hot black tea in almost every home, lodge and roadside tea stall. Hot black tea with a couple of biscuit tastes like heaven on earth on any winter morning, and when the winter morning is drenched and perfectly blended with the golden sunrays, four rupees and fifty paise is nothing but a satisfactory compensation for immense pleasure.

The strong shackles of cold on a winter night melted into a bright morning for even the children belonging to the footpath, who can never think of paying the satisfactory price for immense pleasure. But the mighty sun showered the golden rays without bias on all to seek pleasure from. Arun and Dipu broke open the shackles to face a new morning with new difficulties, new hardships and new stories of livelihood.

‘Dipu’, said Arun, rubbing his eyes, ‘what shall we do today?’ Dipu yawned loudly and kept sitting on the torn blanket. He took the paper ball and rolled it repeatedly. The ball was their only mode of entertainment. Arun stared at the ball as it went up and down. ‘Let’s do something different today’, cried Dipu, ‘today we will work harder and earn double.’ Arun was confused. He looked at Dipu as he scratched his torn, dirty shirt.

‘Haven’t you heard of the new park, Nicco Park?’ asked Dipu, ‘let’s visit the park. I get bored playing with these paper balls.’

‘But…’

‘Please Arun. Don’t say that you won’t. It’s only for a day.’ They looked at each other and smiled.

They didn’t waste any time. As the sun got hotter, Arun and Dipu began to work harder. They washed more cars, cleaned more streets and earned more money by noon. When their pockets had enough money and fate gave her vicious smile at them, they had some plain rice from a street hotel.

Dipu separated the entry fee from the rest of the money and stood in the entry line. They were too happy to realize the indifference of the world towards them. They bought two tickets from the counter. At the entrance, the security guard wore a friendly countenance. He smile at all children and wished them a good day. When he saw Dipu and Arun, he looked at them with an eye of suspicion and inspected the tickets carefully.

The gate opened to a world of fancy dreams. A huge board read in red, ‘HEARTY WELCOME TO YOU’. There were Santa Clauses all around and children posing for a photograph with them. A variety of rides filled the park at regular intervals… the Dragon Flight, Boat Ride, Jumping Mouse. Arun and Dipu ran about to see their dream being transformed into truth. They stopped to see the Toy Train, moving round the place like a huge serpent with little children playing in its stomach. The deep green colour of the Toy Train merged with the green of the trees as the serpent ran out of sight. ‘Hey Arun!’ cried Dipu, ‘The next ride will be ours! Let us get the tickets.’

The serpent arrived at the station for new prey of the next ride. Arun and Dipu ran inside the train to get a window seat. They were spending the day of their dreams. They hardly realized that they were the only ones in their compartment. Children with parents entered and went out for a better seat with better people around. They did not realize the indifference of the world towards them. They sang, laughed and shouted as the train moved through the greenery. They were lost in their dreams. They dreamt of the sweet might-have-beens of life and closed their eyes to feel and enjoy every moment of the ride.

They walked around the cemented floor for car rides and reached the lake. It was beautiful and caught the reflection of the sun successfully. The lake was surrounded by equally spaced trees and orchards. At one point, the tempting boats stood still, offering boat rides. Arun and Dipu were easily tempted and bought the tickets. A sky blue boat waited for them. It was called The Blue Whale. They stepped on the boat and sat quietly, looking at the water, waiting for two more people to complete the ride, on a day dream tainted day. But the story of indifference repeated itself. Which parent would let their child ride with street children with untidy hair and torn, dirty shirt? Who would willingly share a ride with car washers? Who would spend time with by-lane dreamers?

The Blue Whale kept waiting as it got rejected by everyone. The Manager of the park was informed about this. He listened to the matter and promised the parents to look into it. He looked at Arun and Dipu with eyes of rage and pulled them by their collar out of the boat.

‘You’ve trespassed into the park!’ cried the Manager angrily, ‘You must’ve crossed the boundary walls. I won’t leave you. You don’t realize what loss you’ve made to my business!’

‘Sir’, replied Dipu, as the Manager was still holding his collar, ‘we’ve bought tickets. I can show them.’

‘Shut up, will you?’ the Manager shouted at the top of his voice, ‘How dare you argue with me? I will hand you over to the police.’ Dipu took the tickets out of his pocket and showed them to the Manager. The Manager’s face was red in anger. He began to thrash Dipu mercilessly.

‘Sorry sir’, Arun apologized on his knees, ‘this will never happen again. Please leave him. We’ll never enter the park again.’ The security guard was called to throw Arun and Dipu out of the Nicco Park, where a huge board read in red, ‘VISIT US AGAIN’.

They walked silently down the footpath. The line at the entry had extended to the next lane by then. They did not talk to each other. Like a moth, in the empty ambience of darkness, yearns to get out of oblivion and obscurity and seeks life in the form of a ray of light from a flame, Arun and Dipu kept walking till they were close enough to their flame which they could seek protection from against the world’s ugly truth. They kept walking till they could see the paper balls waiting for them.

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