Short Fiction: Thanksgiving

Subhash Chandra

Subhash Chandra

About six years old. She was running towards us as fast as her little feet could carry. Clad in an unwashed frock, frayed at the edges, barefooted, tousled hair perhaps infested with lice, she stood looking at me for a few seconds,  scratching her head. Since I did not respond instantly, she took her place at the end of the queue.  

While driving on the Outer Ring Road, I got involved in a dangerous pile-up that killed three and injured five -- two of them critically. I escaped with only a crack in my left wrist. A miracle indeed! We organized a pooja at home and decided to treat the poor as Thanksgiving to God Almighty.

Garima and I were readying and handing out thermocol plates with the delicious fare she had cooked: jeera-aloo, gobhi matar, chana-masala, raita, halwa, and kheer. (My wife can give the chef of a starred hotel in Delhi a run for his money. No exaggeration!) 

The queue comprising bicycle rickshaw pullers, E-rickshaws drivers, small vegetable and fruit vendors, and some Basti (slum) dwellers, crawled slowly.  Finally, when the small girl reached us, the food had finished except for a little Kheer … just enough for one katori (a small thermocol bowl). My wife handed her the kheer and said, “Sorry, everything is over!
The child looked terribly disappointed, but her eyes lit up when she saw the kheer was generously laced with nuts like almonds, pistachios, and cashews.

Meanwhile, a boy, about four years old, also came running. The girl told him, “Toone bahut dair kar di.” (You are too late).
His face fell. But the next moment, the girl said, “Listen, cup your hands.”
The boy looked confused.

Putting the small bowl on the side of our table, she demonstrated to him how to do that. He complied. She poured more than half of the contents in the small bowl into his cupped hands and he slurped the sweet. Then she licked the katori clean and both smiled at each other. 

I asked the girl, “Is he your brother?”
“How do you know him?”
“He lives in the Basti.” 
I asked her, “What is your name?”
“And yours,” I asked the boy.
“Saleem,” she piped up before he could open his mouth.
“Saleem … Saleem,” she repeated loudly, gave out a tinkling laugh and both gamboled away cheerily. 

The coconut vendor standing nearby, said, “If only they could remain children forever!”

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