There are all kinds of hardships. It is not the good times but the bad times in our life that define us. Today you are here, tomorrow you can be somewhere else.
The sun shone overhead as I walked on the streets of Nagpur. It was noon. That was when my feet led me onto the Karodi Road. On the right side are huge flats with french windows, state-of-the-art verandas and they stand in majestic grandeur. In stark contrast the left side is graced with an array of hawkers selling everything from (apparently) imported sunglasses, colourful shawls, fruits to iron-ware and swings. The footpath is now the hawkers’ makeshift home. There is hardly any privacy. As I walked by I could see two women huddled together silently discussing something in one tent. In another a toddler was playing with her mother, she looked my age.
Further along was a group of small boys, hardly 12, playing cards. As I passed them they called after me, “Didi kheloge?!” (will you play?) with laughter bubbling from their throats. I denied smiling at them. However, I had only walked three four more steps when I changed my mind. I turned around and went back to them.
Seeing me come back they looked their confusion. I squatted outside their tent and just said, “Aaplog khelo, mai bus dekhungi.” (I just wish to watch as you play.) Clearly, no one had ever presented them with such an odd request. Nevertheless, with much enthusiasm they resumed their game. Each held three cards in their hand, I guessed they were playing teen patti. But they were so fast I could hardly follow. Within half a minute they had already dealt and played twice. I could not comprehend a thing that was going on. I noticed however, that they exchanged coins after the second game.
“Aaplog paiso ke saath khelte ho?” (You play/gamble with money?)
“Haa didi, paiso ke saath khelne me hi zyaada mazaa aata hai” (Yes, it is more fun to play with money), said one of them.
I asked him, “Aapka naam kya hai?”(What’s your name?)
And he continued to introduce everyone else to me, Kumar, Gulshan, Sunil, Govinda and Neta. There was much laughter in introducing Neta. It seemed there was a story behind his name. I did not prod further. They were already pretty much flustered at my appearance. I bade farewell and then left.
I can’t help but notice that whenever each one of them smiled, there was innocence etched across there face unlike other children with similar background that I have had the opportunity to cross path with. These seemed happy.
It will be sometime before their laughing faces fades away from my memory. Hooded under the tent playing cards, with real money just for the fun of it.