Kishen was staring intently at the passing cars on the road. It was a beautiful
Sunday with the sun shining bright in the cold December morning. With his sack of roasted peanuts in tow, he knew it was a great day to make a good sale. People loved roasted peanuts in winters and more so when it was sunny. He sold 100gm of peanuts for 10 rupees accompanied with a tiny pack of a special masala salt. Though, he had his regular customers but he primarily counted on the red light halts for more than half of his daily sale.
‘I didn’t sell a single book last evening’, said a gloomy Monu, Kishen’s best friend, as he came and sat down beside Kishen with his stack of cheap duplicates of bestsellers and lottery tickets. A hardworking and sincere young man, he alternated between selling fortune and tales of the more fortunate. ‘Get copies of the latest Chetan Bhagat book’ replied Kishen ‘they sell like hotcakes’. ‘I would have, if I knew the difference. Why don’t you come with me the next time?’ asked Monu hopefully, in-between fits of cough which had been plaguing him for the past week. ‘If it’s not a school day, I will. And don’t worry! A lot of people are out on a Sunday. It’s perfect for a picnic at the Central Park. You will sell some stuff before lunch.’ pipped in Kishen, ever optimistic, pushing back a strand of stray golden hair from his dark brown mane. He had been born with a patch of golden hair on his head.
Consequently, his family called him the ‘sone ki chidiya’ or the golden bird destined to fly away from destitute poverty one day. Not only because of his shiny locks, but he was the top student in his grade at the central government school in South Delhi. He sold peanuts only after school or during vacations but that didn’t stop him from keeping up-to-date with the latest news and trends of the world. He wrapped his masala salt in the morning newspaper which he first read and judiciously put to good use as make-shift pouches and napkins with the nuts. His parents had high hopes from him. They made sure their bright son could get the best education possible despite the meagre incomes they earned as a security guard and maidservant, respectively. They dreamt of him becoming a high ranking government officer. But Kishen hoped to open his own business. Though only 15 years old, he was obsessed with becoming a rich man. Apart from selling peanuts on holidays, he subsisted his income by teaching arduous mathematical concepts to his peers and juniors. Like most adolescents in his economic strata, he was wiser than his age beget. But he
also had the intelligence, patience and diligence to rise above the station in life that birth had bestowed upon him.
Monu, on the other hand, was fatherless with three younger siblings and a frail
mother who lived in his native village in Bihar, India. His dad had died of tuberculosis a few years back and since then, he had taken the un-coveted position of the sole earner of his family. He had to leave school and his uncle Ramesh, his mother’s brother, got him a job selling books, magazines and lottery tickets at the red light. Giving up school was his biggest regret but life forced him to grow up and he did. ‘Why don’t you first try to sell the lottery tickets? I noticed you got new ones today. Christmas bonanza will be a huge seller! After-all, it is a 50 lakh prize who would not want to buy that?’ suggested Kishen to a forlorn Monu. ‘Not everybody is as lucky as you mister’, said Monu ‘And I only have about 20 of those. Rest were wrestled away from me by the goons who call themselves my boss.I have to sell the other lottery tickets too.’
‘Can I buy one?’ asked Kishen. ‘Of course. Feel free! With your luck, you might even win it. Though even for you, the odds are one in a million!’ retorted Monu with a chuckle and showed him the golden ticket gaudily exclaiming the amount of prize money awaiting its fortuitous buyer. The light turned red and cars came to a grinding halt. ‘I will go up to the first column of cars and you take the second’, Kishen directed Monu. In mere 60 seconds, they couldn’t possibly go to every car which stopped, obviously. And if two vendors crowded on same vehicle, even when waring different items, they would be more likely to be shoed away then sell anything.
Thus, Kishen had come up with a strategy to try and maximize their sales. They divided the columns of cars amongst themselves and therefore, increase their chances of success. ‘No, man. Let’s switch. I will take the first and you take the second’, replied Monu. The first column had more cars and he needed to his books to sell today pronto. Kishen agreed and they got down to business hastily. Kishen quickly walked towards a black vintage car at the head of his column. The car’s occupant were a driver and Lady dressed in black at the back. As soon as Kishen neared them, the Lady rolled down her window and called him out. ‘How much for 2 bags?’ she asked Kishen while looking at him with a hint of amusement and intrigue in her eyes. Kishen noticed her stare flickering towards his golden hair. ‘That would be twenty madam’, he replied and fished his rucksack for two bags of roasted peanuts. As he handed over the bags to her and took the money, he noticed she was holding a small crystal ball which was swirling with purple and black waves. ‘You are blessed, my boy’, said the Lady. ‘Thank you madam. My parents always say this to me.’, replied Kishen getting increasingly uneasy under her gaze.
‘The gold in your hair isn’t just a co-incidence or birth-mark. It is an indication you are granted with gifts surpassing mere mortal men.’, added the Lady and continued, ‘Not everyone has the talent to peer into the future but with the correct crystal and intention, one can. Most people tend to colonize their good fortune but you are different. You have the ability to change the course of future, if you want to.’ With this, she gave him the crystal ball and the car sped past him as the light turned green. Kishen was stuck on the spot. Even though she had left, he could still feel the eyes of the woman on him. He held the crystal ball she gave him, which was clear as glass now. Kishen shoved the ball in his bag and though shaken, continued with his day.
As evening dawned, the adolescents started returning home. But Kishen had other plans. His mind was clouded with questions and the Lady’s ominous words. Despite his confusion, he wanted to know how he could see and change the course of future. He headed towards the children’s park where he went to think clearly and escape from the warm, inviting but cramped shanty his family called home. He took out the crystal ball and sat at the wooden bench. Fascinated by the purplish-black and silver swirls in the crystal ball, he peered intently into it. The swirls started to clear and he could see some images inside the crystal.
Kishen saw himself and his family but they looked different. He noticed they had returned to their ancestral village in Kanpur, UP. It was Diwali and everyone looked resplendent in their festive garb huddled in front of the small mandir placed in the north-east corner of the house for auspicious vibes. His father was holding a puja tray and the entire family, which included his mother, grandfather, grandmother and little brother, were collectively chanting a prayer to Laksmi, the goddess of wealth and fortune. But they were dressed in the kind of finery which Kishen knew his family couldn’t afford, at-least in their present known circumstances. Incredulously, his old home had changed too. It seemed newly renovated in a modest manner. As far as he knew, his father had planned to re-furbish their house for years but, unsurprisingly, money was an issue. He wondered whatever happened to overcome that hurdle. His eyes fell upon golden piece of paper framed right above the mandir. Upon closer inspection, he realized it was the Christmas bonanza winning lottery ticket worth 50 lakhs.
So, I will win it, thought Kishen to himself. His mind already started racing to
the possibilities of this revelation. He would now have enough to jump-start his
business or go to college. But firstly, he would buy himself a good laptop for better access to the world and studying. He felt elated as he had not in ages. His eyes were glued to the future unfolding right in front of his eyes. ‘Kishen, it’s your turn now to hold the thali. Come in front.’, Raju, Kishen’s father, instructed him in the crystal ball, ‘Now, thank the Devi for your good fortune, our new business, bountiful harvest and good health of this family.’ The money had been
put to good use. The fields have finally been sowed, thought Kishan. Traditionally, his grandfather and fore-fathers were small farmers or worked in the fields of bigger farmers for a paltry sum. His father was an exception and left for the big city to earn more money but he yearned to return home. They held a small patch of land in the village but it wasn’t tilled often due to lack of money and unavailability of either Kishen or Raju to work on the land. Looks like dreams were being full-filled long-last!
The images faded suddenly and the crystal ball returned to its purplish-black
eddies. Kishen prepared to keep it back in his rucksack but the crystal cleared once more. Now, he saw Monu. He was in a government hospital ward. The clinical feel of the white walls and desolateness ringing through the hall were felt by Kishen despite the crystal. An IV was hooked to his skinny hand and he simply laid on the hard bed with his eyes closed. He looked emaciated and seemed to have aged by 15 years. His best friend was taking measured breaths as if counting every swig of air he took in. His oldest younger brother was beside him and his uncle and mother were talking to the doctor in hushed tones. ‘But he had started the treatment on time.’ asked Sharmila, Monu’s mother, tearfully to the doctor. ‘We had behenji but he has been careless with his medicines and follow-ups. If he doesn’t take his medications on time and doesn’t show up to meet us, what can we do? He has about 3-4 months to live. It’s a severe case of pulmonary tuberculosis. It just doesn’t go away like that.’ the doctor replied wearily. ‘He can’t wait for hours in lines every-day to meet you. And when he did end-up reaching your cabin, you were hardly there to attend him. This boy has a family to support and can’t be standing here all day. Plus, the medicines you write are too expensive and not found in the hospital’s subsided chemist shop. Is this a public facility or a private one offering pricey drugs?’ retorted Ramesh in a fit of anger.
‘Then why don’t you go to a private hospital with all the caveats? Please don’t bother me and I have spent enough time here. Kindly leave. Only one person can stay here for the night otherwise I would have to call the security’, the doctor said in a haughty manner and started exiting the ward. At this point, Sharmila burst into a loud sob and fell to the ground though her brother held her up. ‘There must be something you can do’, wailed Sharmila. The doctor gave a loud and exasperated sigh. ‘We can start him on a new treatment cycle. But given the disease’s advanced state, it will be rigorous and he has to stay at the hospital. You can’t possibly make him work at the red light in this condition. In-fact, working on the red light has been his bane and worsened his situation. But the treatment will be expensive.’ replied the doctor. ‘How much?’ asked Ramesh, tentatively. ‘About 5 lakhs. Submit half the amount quickly and we will start with the therapy. Now, I have to leave my family is waiting for me to join them for the Diwali puja’, said the doctor and hastily left. ‘I have used up all my savings and pawned my jewelry to save him. I have nothing left.’ said Sharmila crying profusely. The crystal swirled and became a transparent ball once again.
Kishen was in a somber mood. All the exuberance he felt earlier about winning the lottery had dissipated into thin air. He couldn’t believe his best friend was likely to die within a year. Feeling extremely conicted, Kishen began his short trudge home. ‘Where had you been?’ asked Geeta, Kishen’s mother, when he entered the house.Upon seeing his face, she asked no further questions and proceeded to quietly serve him dinner. ‘Everything alright, beta?’ she tried to prod but Kishen simply nodded his head in negative and ate his dinner in silence. Later, he went to bed that night with a feeling of guilt and sorrow. He felt both thankful and angry with the Lady in the vintage car who had given him a chance to peek into the future. For rst time in his life, he was grieved by the good fortune conferred on him. In fact, Kishan felt somewhat cursed by this knowledge. He couldn’t possibly allow Monu to waste away. There must be something he could do. Some way he could change his fate. A way he could share his luck. He was suddenly hit by an idea like a thunder. Kishen knew now how he could help Monu. Next day, Kishen was jittery with nervousness and excitement on his way to the red light. He could feel some strange energy and strength coursing through his veins.
He placed his bag on the pavement and waited. Soon, he spotted Monu walking
towards him. ‘Still want the lottery ticket?’ Monu asked. ‘Of course I do. But I don’t have enough money. Why don’t we both buy it together and if we win, the prize can be divided?’ Kishen replied with a wink.