Kaku lived in a small village called Chhoti Dadi. The small village had a small school. Everyday Kaku had to walk from his little hut at one end of the village to the primary school near the village well. On his way to school, he passed through green paddy fields, the village lake and the old Ram Lila ground. All his friends, be it dreamy Jhunjhunu, colorful Pinaki or talkative Tachi, did not like walking to school.
But Kaku loved the long walk to school. He had made a new friend on his way. Sun or rain, Kaku would walk to school. Kaku’s mother was very happy that Kaku loved school so much. She did not know about her son’s BIG new friend. Kaku had told no one. No one knew why he loved walking past the green paddy fields, the village lake and the old Ram Lila ground to reach school. No one knew Kaku’s little BIG secret on the way to school. Kaku wanted to keep this friend a secret. He thought his friends might make fun of him.
Every morning Kaku got up before the neighbour’s cock could bellow its loud and shrill cuck-a-doo-coo. Kaku would be ready in his neatly ironed blue and mustard-coloured school uniform, eagerly waiting for his tiffin box. As soon as he got his favorite rice idlis and coconut chutney, he would run out of the house. Kaku left home as early as 6:30 in the morning to meet his friend, whom he called Lal Hawa.
As he crossed the paddy fields, the soft chuk-chuk sound greeted Kaku. Kaku was happiest when he heard Lal Hawa coming. Kaku knew that he got the best view of Lal Hawa from a small mud hill near the village lake. As the chuk-chuk sound got louder Kaku walked faster. He knew the trick. He timed his running with the chuk-chuk sound of Lal Hawa. On every chuk-chuk of Lal Hawa, Kaku took a swift step forward through the paddy fields towards the lake.
Kaku knew the exact point when the red, speeding Lal Hawa would whistle. Now, with practice, he could match his whistle with the loud whistle of Lal Hawa. Kaku knew, Lal Hawa said, “Hello”, in her language when she whistled. Kaku whistled back, welcoming Lal Hawa.
He ran through the paddy field doing chuk-chuk-chuk-chuk-koooooooooooooo… As he reached the lake, in a moment, the huge engine came towards him. As Lal Hawa approached, a powerful wind started blowing. Kaku’s hair flew from his forehead into his eyes. His blue and mustard school dress fluttered, like a kite flying in the morning sky.
Standing on the small hill, Kaku saw Lal Hawa become bigger and bigger. In seconds, Lal Hawa covered the whole blue sky as it chugged towards Kaku. Kaku was jumping with joy. He clapped and waved as Lal Hawa chuk-chuk-ed past him. He waved till the very end. Small-unknown hands waved back from the windows of Lal Hawa. As Kaku eyes followed the red train, he saw small hands waving to him. He ran along with Lal Hawa waving back at the small hands.
Kaku could not believe how fast Lal Hawa could run. He was sure Lal Hawa had magic wheels. In seconds Lal Hawa could cross him and his big village.
Kaku loved meeting Lal Hawa everyday. He liked the red colour, the fast moving wheels, the waving windows and the chuk-chuk sound, as it moved.
Kaku prayed every night for Lal Hawa to stop at his village just once.
One day he asked his schoolteacher if Lal Hawa could stop at Chotti Dadi. Kaku’s schoolteacher laughed loudly and told him that their village was too small for big and mighty Lal Hawa. Disheartened Kaku decided to ask Amma, his mother, the same question. In the evening, Amma said, “Kaku, just as you want to meet Lal Hawa, even Lala Hawa will want to stop her one day and meet you.” Kaku put his arms around Amma and kissed her.
Kaku had made big plans for the day when Lal Hawa would stop at Chotti Dadi. Kaku dreamt of flying on the fast wheels of Lal Hawa. He imagined he was waving to Amma, Jhunjhunu, Pinaki, Tachi and his schoolteacher. He also saved three idlis everyday for the small hands that waved at him from Lal Hawa.
But Lal Hawa never stopped. Every day, Lal Hawa raced past the village lake, leaving Kaku on the small mud hill. He had to sit and finish the idlis alone. Seeing Kaku unhappy, one day Kaku’s mother told his friends Jhunjhunu, Pinaki and Tachi to walk to school with Kaku. Kaku knew he would miss seeing Lal Hawa because his friends walked to school through a shorter way. Kaku asked Amma if he could walk to school alone for just one more day, and see Lal Hawa one last time. Amma agreed, and explained to Kaku that when he was older he could go to the big station in town to meet Lal Hawa.
The next morning, a pleasant breeze welcomed Kaku as he walked to school. He went past the green paddy fields, the village lake and the old Ram Lila ground. Kaku walked slowly. He was sad. Today was the last time he would wave to Lal Hawa. As he walked, he heard the distant sound of Lal Hawa ….chuk-chuk-chuk. Kaku started walking faster. Like always, he started running to the beat of Lal Hawa’s chuck-chuk and started whistling “cooooo: just like Lal hawa whistled.
He could see big and mighty Lal Hawa approaching as he reached the small Hill. It was fast and red. Kaku closed his eyes and started praying that Lal Hawa, his dear friend, would stop. The powerful breeze that blew every time lal Hawa came, stopped. Kaku’s eyes were still closed but his ears could not hear the chuk-chuk of Lal Hawa. Startled, he opened his eyes. There, right in front of him, Lal Hawa, so red and so big, had stopped. Kaku could not believe it. He closed his eyes shut and opened them, quickly. That’s when he heard the noise coming from the village. Everyone was running towards Lal Hawa, shouting and cheering. He could see his schoolteacher, Amma, Tachi, Jhunjhunu, Pinaki and the old retired railway guard hurrying towards Lal Hawa. Lal Hawa had stopped at Chhoti Dadi and was waiting for Kaku to meet her.
Lal Hawa whistled aloud, Kaku laughed and whistled back. Quickly, he picked up his tiffin box with the idlis and coconut chutney and climbed onto Lal Hawa. And, just then, as if it had been waiting just for for Kaku, Lal Hawa chuk-chuked again. The slow chuk-chuk sound became faster and by the time Amma reached the train tracks, Lal Hawa was flying on magic wheels with Kaku inside it. Amma smiled. She had tears in her eyes seeing Kaku so happy. From a window, Kaku waved to everyone. Lal Hawa was flying and so was Kaku!