It was a cool winter afternoon. I ran towards the window and peeped outside with eyes full of excitement. My eyes scanned the street outside and searched anxiously. My heart pounced while I tried to spot the bright signboard, “MAGIK POPCORN”. It was the name of the Dilawar Khan’s Popcorn vending cart.
The faint voice of Dilawar reverberated around the corners of the colony, “Popcorn! Magik Popcorn! Come and enjoy a mouthful of magic right from the land of the djinns!”
As I spotted the lemon colored cart, I rushed out from my house and reached the corner of the alley where Dilawar had parked the cart. A mini crowd of young boys from the neighborhood had already gathered around him. I patiently waited for my turn. He knew me by my name and smiled at me.
Dilawar diligently and artistically mixed the freshly made popcorn in neatly crafted paper packs and then took a cup of hot fuming camphor and blew the smoke into the popcorn. This was a regular practice of Dilawar and he smiled while handing over to the customer with, “The smoke of the djinns trapped inside my magic camphor embeds its magic inside one piece of popcorn in this pack! Eat every piece of Dilawar Khan’s Magik Popcorn and make a wish! The special piece with the magic of the djinns would make your wish come true!”
This was twenty years ago. Time flew away like a whirlwind thereafter…
During my teenage days, Dilawar Khan of Kashmir used to vend popcorn from his MAGIK POPCORN cart with the special addendum of the magic of the djinns that could make our dreams come true! What’s more? It did work also! Many of us indeed got what we wished for! He was a real magician. He was a hero of every child and teenager in nooks and corners of local alleys of Mumbai and I was no exception.
One day, Dilawar went away. Before leaving, he told us, “I am returning back to Kashmir. My son is turning five years. I need to be with him. He misses me. I must see him grow up!”
Today, as I was sitting in my study room and was chatting with Aunt Padma, I heard a voice. It was a familiar voice that kindled a childlike excitement in my heart.
The faint voice again reverberated around the corners of the colony, “Popcorn! Magik Popcorn! Come and enjoy a mouthful of magic right from the land of the djinns!”
I exclaimed, “Isn’t that Dilawar Khan’s voice? What is he doing here after almost two decades?”
Aunt Padma was also surprised. I got up and ran down to the street. It was indeed Dilawar Khan, with his same old popcorn vending cart, with the signboard MAGIK POPCORN! However, the cart now looked worn out and dilapidated just like its owner Dilawar himself.
I walked up to the corner of the alley. Dilawar was indeed selling his popcorn in his usual manner. The cup of smoking camphor was also present and he smiled while handing over to the customer with, “The smoke of the djinns trapped inside my magic camphor embeds its magic inside one piece of popcorn in this pack! Eat every piece of Dilawar Khan’s Magik Popcorn and make a wish…”
However, there was a queer difference in his style this time. Even though it was insignificant, but it caught my fancy. Before handing over the popcorn, Dilawar was picking one piece from every pack and placing in his own mouth (as if trying to verify the taste before giving it to the customer). This was an unusual practice that I felt awkward about.
As the crowd of customers eased a bit, I approached Dilawar and stood beside him saying, “Dilawar, do you recognize me?”
His skin has crumpled and his health has deteriorated. His eyesight might have also become feebler. However, he looked much older than his actual age. Dilawar scrutinized me and then said after a while, “Pravin baba?”
I smiled and said, “Yes its me.”
Dilawar patted on my shoulder and said with a smile, “Do you want your favorite popcorn?”
“Yes I would love to!”, I replied, “I would also love to know about you and your son! How was life for all these years? How is it that you have returned after almost two decades?”
Dilawar started to make my pack of popcorn and spoke, “Life was good all these years and I had seen my little Ahmed grow up into a fine young gentleman! He joined the Indian Army and served his nation!”
“Where is he now?” I asked enthusiastically.
“I don’t know Pravin baba!” fumbled Dilawar, “When the war started in Kargil with the neighboring nation, five years ago, he was commissioned for duty! I sent him and he fought with full valor. However, after a few days, I got the news from the army that he has been martyred!”
“What?” my voice stopped and I couldn’t speak further. I felt a lump in my throat that blanked my speech.
Dilawar Khan continued, “His body was never found. Some officers suspected that he was taken as a prisoner of war while some suspected that he fell valiantly while fighting but his body couldn’t be recovered from the treacherous trenches! I still have hope, even though five years have passed. My heart tells me that my brave Ahmed will return! The Army and the nation has rewarded him with a medal for his bravery and supreme sacrifice, but the heart of this father knows that he will come back to his old father…”
Dilawar gave me my pack of popcorn and took one piece from it and placed it in his mouth. He came close to me and whispered, “Ever since I came back to Mumbai again, from every pack of popcorn with the magic of the djinns, I take one piece for myself and make a wish for his return! Who knows, the one with the magic spell might come in my hand and my wish would come true!”
Tears rolled down from my eyes, while Dilawar placed the piece of popcorn from my pack, closed his eyes momentarily and made his wish. As he went away, I ate my popcorn and made a wish myself, “magic of the djinns, please bring back little Ahmed to old Dilawar Khan! May every soldier of our motherland be able to come home to their fathers!”
The aged Dilawar Khan slowly went away while pushing his cart of MAGIK POPCORN and hawked, “Popcorn! Magik Popcorn! Come and enjoy a mouthful of magic right from the land of the djinns!”
I don’t know why I am writing this incident in today’s journal. Perhaps, when my dementia wipes away my memory, I would love to see Ahmed return to his father and proves the magical power of the djinns!