Glowing lantern

Short Story by Aliya (Entry No. 12)

Kartikey came to Varanasi after twenty years. The city welcomed him with its pious smell. He had never felt that warmth, that smell anywhere else. As he was going home, he was looking outside the auto rickshaw without blinking his eyes. Everything was different yet familiar.

There were big shops, big multiplex buildings but the narrow lanes, the chat shops and the old structures were still the same. Some bulls were roaming around and some were sitting on the sides of the road. Roaming dogs and paan shops brought a smile on his face. The sound of bells of the temples and azaan from the mosque made the the atmosphere so mesmerizing which was the quality of Banaras.

As the auto rickshaw was moving he saw children peeking from windows of the school bus. Curious and innocent eyes reminded him of his school days. There was this big playground where he used to play. Children from all the communities came and play there.

There was a boy named Suraj who played with them. He was a small, weak boy and was really good in playing cricket. All the children wanted to keep Suraj in their team. He was a poor boy. They didn’t know much about him. And because of his sporting ability, his dirty clothes and his background did not come in their friendship.

One day after playing all the children went home but Kartikey sat on the side bench. Suraj came to him and asked why is he not going home.

“My mummy and daddy will come home after one hour..till then they asked me to wait here.”

“Come on! let’s go to my home.We will play Ludo there for some time and then you go to your home.”Suraj suggested.

“Alright” Kartikey got excited.

He forgot his parents advice not to go anywhere without their permission and specially to a stranger’s house but the excitement of going to a new place made him forget everything.

When he entered the area where Suraj lived, a very foul smell forced him to cover is nose. On the side of the road there were huts and tents. It was a slum area. There was a dirty lake on a side.

Many children were bathing themselves there along with the buffaloes. He saw pigs being cooked in the open area which was burning from the coal made up of wood. The place was filled with dirt. He was watching everything with curious eyes. He was seeing one of most dark and helpless lives! Suraj’s house was a small hut. There was a mattress, a cooking stove, water and a few clothes! There was a lantern which was for lighting there small hut!

“Let’s play..!”said Suraj looking at his curious eyes.

“Oh yes! ” he replied. They played ludo for sometime when he heard someone shouting.

“What is it?” he asked Suraj.

That is uncle Neeraj who is beating his wife.”replied Suraj with his eyes on the floor.”I should have not brought you here.” he said.

“Let’s go.” he was so frightened.

They came outside and started walking towards the ground. While walking Suraj told him that he did not want to live there. And he will study, and work hard and will surely get out of that place..he encouraged him and both of them discussed plans of there future. After coming home he told his mother about his adventure which he decided he will never tell anyone..but he couldn’t keep it to himself…his mother was so angry and strictly told him not play with Suraj anymore..

“He will kidnap you one day!” she warned him.

“No mummy..Suraj is really nice boy. He is very intelligent also. He told me he is planning to change that society.”

“Shut up! which child talks like that. He seems a really smart cunning boy. Do not talk with him from now!”she said and told him to go and study.

Kartikey did not listened to her. He still played with him and after some time he went to boarding school and then to college. He stopped going to the ground and friendship with Suraj fade away with that. But he never forgot him. And as now he was going to those lanes he told the auto rickshaw driver to take him to that slum area.

There was still that foul smell in that area..the side tents..the hut.. children bathing in that dirty lake..and maybe the people were same as well..

Kartikey clearly remembered the hut of Suraj. There was no door to knock..he called “is someone inside?” standing outside..

A short man came out. He was a lean thin man..but his stomach was outside. He was wearing a cheap but clean cloth. Kartikey recognised him..He was Suraj.

“Ji saheb! what are you looking for.” Suraj did not recognise him.

“Suraj..its me L. Kartikey! your childhood friend..who you bring home earlier.” he said enthusiastically..he did not feel ashamed that his friend who he recognised in a second didn’t know who he was.

“Ji..ji..saheb I remember” he was looking ashamed.

“Do not call me saheb.”he said.

Sauraj asked him to come inside..he went inside and sat on the mattress.

Inside it was same as he saw twenty years back.. a cooking stove, water and some clothes..
but beside lantern there were a few books which he thought Suraj had kept probably for burning the stove…it seemed that time had stopped there..

Suraj told him that he worked as a mason and was married now. He did not asked him about his love for studies and his future goals. He thought he didn’t know about Suraj’s life problems. Even after telling him not to, Suraj was still calling him Saheb and was ashamed infront of him. Kartikey remembered the time when he took him his home to play ludo..how excited he was then..now there was a huge gap..gap of time..gap of status. He decided to leave.
As he stood up a girl came inside. She was fourteen or fifteen year old girl with an innocent face and twinkling eyes. She was wearing a school uniform.

“She is my daughter, Kamala.”said Suraj. ” She is class tenth and best student of her class. She wants to become a teacher.” he was telling with proud.

Kartikey smiled and said”very good beta! I am your uncle. Work hard and be the best teacher of your country.” and came outside.

All the bad feelings vanished. He realised now that the air was slowly..but changing its foul smell to something really fragrant.. slowly but from night morning of Banaras was coming and slowly but lantern was spreading light of hope.

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