This story took place many years ago… not in a kingdom, not in a village, but in a small town called Kalpanagar. This is not a story of a prince, nor a farmer, but of a young school boy named Mushir, who, quite to his surprise, became a very special person for the townsfolk of Kalpanagar.
Now we listen to the tale…. The summer of 1967 was blistering. The heat came in great waves and beat upon the flat tin roofs of the fifty or so houses in the small dusty town of Kalpanagar. Pigeons and sparrows in flight would fall to the ground because of the terrible heat. The leaves of the mango trees crackled, snip snap, and fell off the branches, forming wide brown carpets of tumbling leaves. In the homes the water taps grumbled when they were opened. The water in the nearby dam had dried up and animals as well as humans had to make do with very little water. Kalpanagar had been turned into a hot, hot stove that very unkind summer in ‘67.
Mushir, his Ammi, Abba and little sister, Suha, lived in one of these houses with the flat tin roofs. Early one morning, as Mushir and Suha were eating a breakfast of tea and bread, Mushir saw an auto-rickshaw weave down the street. It was colorful and had a loud speaker attached to its top which looked like the horn of a unicorn. Red and green streamers flowed from its back like a long tail and yellow balloons bounced about on strings that were tied to its sides. From the speaker a sweet, musical voice sang out:
“Follow me to where I go,
Where I go, you’ll never know,
Unless you follow me!”
It was a teasing song sung by a mischievous voice. Mushir and Suha rushed out to their compound wall to get a fading glimpse of the auto-rickshaw as it turned around a bend and disappeared. Mushir looked at Suha and Suha looked back at Mushir. They both blinked several times. They had never seen anything so pretty, so colorful, and so musical in their lives! And they were both extremely disappointed that they had not been able to follow the auto-rickshaw to wherever it might take them.
“Maybe it will come again tomorrow.” Suha said hopefully.
Mushir was older by three years and wanted to show how much he knew about the world. He had heard his Abba often say, “Never depend on good luck visiting twice. It only comes by once.”
“No, it won’t come again,” he said and turned to go back inside the house. The sun’s rays were on his shoulders, sitting there like a hot water bag.
Suha called out, “It’ll be here again, tomorrow! You want to bet?”
“No. I don’t!” Mushir replied, a little annoyed by his sister’s persistence.
Later that same morning, Mushir joined his friends, Deepu and Jai at the cricket field opposite the clock tower. They sat under the scanty shade of an old Tamarind tree that had lost most of its delicate leaves during the long, hot summer. Deepu was worried. He had heard his parents discussing the shortage of food in the ration shop. Jai said his mother was going to visit her sister’s home in a neighbouring town to borrow many kilos of rice. Mushir had heard his parents whispering to each other that they were running out of food in the house. Vegetables were rotting in the fields because of the summer heat. Rice was not growing in the paddy fields because there was no water. Fruit had become something that the children of Kalpanagar dreamed about but hadn’t eaten in four months. Oh, for a sweet, juicy mango or a bursting pomegranate!
The three boys decided to pray to the rain God, Indra, to send down plenty of rain for all the crops and fields. After praying they all looked up towards the sky, hoping to see dark, rain-bearing clouds. But all they got to see was a big, round ball of flames, the Sun. Their hearts sank. Saddened, they left the cricket field and walked back toward their homes.
Mushir suddenly remembered the event of the morning. “Deepu, did you see that lovely auto-rickshaw that went past your house this morning?”
Neither Deepu nor Jai knew what Mushir was talking about. And when Mushir described it and the song that flowed out of its speaker, they laughed at him.
“Must be the heat that’s getting to your head!” Deepu said.
“You’re imagining things! Nothing that fancy has ever visited Kalpanagar. If you don’t believe me ask my Dadaji. He’s lived here for almost a hundred years.”
So, off they went to Jai’s house to have a conference with his grandfather. Dadaji was wise and kind and very, very old. Quite likely that he was, in fact, a hundred years old! The boys greeted him and sat down on the floor around his feet. Dadaji sat on a wicker chair and mopped the sweat off his face with a large, cotton handkerchief. Jai began by telling him about the auto-rickshaw that Mushir had seen.
“Tell Mushir, Dadaji, is that possible in Kalpanagar? Nothing wonderful happens in Kalpanagar! Ever!”
Dadaji cleared his throat and spoke in a whisper, as if he was scared that the walls might hear him. “Listen to me, you boys…wonderful things happen to us all the time. But most of us just don’t want to accept that something wonderful is happening around us. You have to want magic in your life and there will be magic!” He wiped his craggy, sweet old face again and continued, “Mushir must believe in what he saw and heard and if he believes in it, it will be real for him.” The two boys stared at Mushir who suddenly started to feel uncomfortable. He wished he hadn’t talked about the auto-rickshaw at all!
Mushir went to sleep that night without eating anything. He understood, when his Ammi laid the dinner, that there was not enough to go around for the family. There was a small plateful of rice and the tiniest bowl of curry that he had ever seen. He knew Suha was very hungry and he gave up his share for his little sister.
As he lay on his cot and looked out the window at the clear, starry night sky he prayed that the rains should come soon and there should be enough for the town to eat, and the mango trees should have juicy mangoes on them. And he made a sincere wish: please let that auto-rickshaw come to Kalpanagar tomorrow.
Before the first crow had cawed, Mushir was awake. He wore his canvas shoes and packed a bag with a small bottle of water and some week-old milk biscuits and waited outside the gate of his house. Even at the hour of dawn the air was warm and the sky was clear. Not the tiniest sign of rain. He felt a little silly…there he was, all ready to go and what if the auto-rickshaw should not show up! After all, Jai’s Dadaji was so old and he had heard that sometimes very old people say things that are quite funny and not very true. Maybe all that talk about ‘wonderful things’ and ‘magic’ was just a lot of nonsense! No one in Kalapnagar believed in wonderful things. Even his father was of the opinion that good things happened elsewhere, but not in Kalpanagar. Nevertheless, Mushir waited and waited. For a while he sat. For a while he stood. For some time he whistled and for some time he fanned himself with his hands. And waited.
At last, in the distance, just as the sun was coming up, he heard the rumble of an engine. The town was still asleep. He saw a small shape climbing up the road…yes! It was the rickshaw! He could barely believe his eyes! Or his ears! For now he could hear the song,
Follow me to where I go,
Where I go, you’ll never know,
Unless you follow me!
Mushir swung the bag with his water bottle and biscuits over his shoulder and just as the rickshaw crossed his gate he broke into a run and shouted with a whoop of joy: “I will follow you!”
The rickshaw ahead, at a slow pace and Mushir right behind it…. He ran for what seemed like a very long time. He did not stop even once for fear of losing sight of the lovely little rickshaw. He passed small villages and dry, empty fields. He passed shallow pools of water where buffaloes waded lazily, trying to remain cool. He passed a factory where men were trooping in to work and then another factory and another…then, suddenly he was in a place that looked absolutely empty! There was no road, no village, no town, no people, animals, trees, grass, nothing! It was empty white space and the rickshaw and Mushir were floating through this place very slowly. At the end of a long time there was a sudden bursting sound in his ears like a hundred firecrackers popping all at once, and the Rickshaw and Mushir were back in Kalpanagar.
It was Kalpanagar…and, yet, it wasn’t Kalpanagar! Was it? The cricket field, yes, it was the same cricket field where Mushir had met with his friends, but it was all green with sweet smelling grass. The Tamarind tree had millions of emerald coloured, shady leaves on it. And there! His house! The mango tree in the courtyard had fat, green mangoes hanging from its branches. And in the distance, the clock tower! But what were all those people doing standing in front of it? They had garlands in their hands and they were smiling at him as he came running up to them. Where was the rickshaw? He couldn’t see the rickshaw anywhere….
His mother stepped out of the crowd and hugged him. After that all the townsfolk came one by one and garlanded him and thanked him. Mushir was very confused by everything. After a while, the crowd disappeared and the only one left standing by the wall of the clock tower was old Dadaji.
Mushir walked up to him very cautiously. “Good morning, Dadaji.”
“A very good morning it is, Mushir!” The old gentleman smiled back.
“I don’t understand what I am being thanked for, Dadaji.” Mushir was puzzled.
“For many things. You gave us the rains. You made the sun gentle. Because of you the trees now bear fruit. There is plenty to eat for everyone. What more can you be thanked for?”
Mushir frowned. He did not understand a word. “But how could I have done all that? And when?”
“How? When? When you followed the rickshaw to the Fields of Plenty. When you believed that good things happen to everybody. When you accepted that a miracle happens when you want it to happen. That’s when!”
After that day Mushir was a legend in Kalpanagar and remains one till this day. He taught the people of Kalpanagar to never stop believing in the goodness of life. He made them understand that bad days don’t last forever. Even now sometimes, as he sits out in the morning in the courtyard of his house, he sees the little rickshaw, chugging up the road, singing its sweet, teasing song. No one else sees it, except his sister Suha. No one else will ever see it.
If some day a miracle should come your way, don’t turn away from it. Good things happen to those who believe in them.