Shishir (Winter) 2019, Short Stories - Prasun Roy 



Pop Corn

By Prasun Roy 


It was a cool winter afternoon, thirty years ago. I was still a young schoolboy whose heart believed in fairytales. Iknew that the time had arrived, so I ran towards the window and peeped outside with eyes full of excitement. My eyes scanned the street and searched anxiously. My heart pounced while I tried to spot the bright and colorful 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, from the land of the djinns!”


As I spotted the lemon colored cart, I rushed down the stairs of our apartment building and reached the corner of the alley where Dilawar had parked his cart. A mini crowd of young boys from the neighborhood had already gathered around him. Thus, I waited patiently for my turn.Dilawar knew me by my name and smiled at me.


I stood and watched, while Dilawar diligently and artistically mixed and packed the freshly made popcorn in neatly crafted paper packs. Then, as per his customary tradition, he 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 the popcorn to the customers with the words, “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 grant that wish and make it come true!”


Three decades ago, Dilawar Khan of Kashmir used to vend popcorn from his MAGIK POPCORN cart with a special addendum of the magic of the djinns that could make our dreams come true! What’s more? The magic did actuallywork! Many of us indeed got what we wished for! He was a real magician. He was a hero for every child inthe innumerable corners of local alleys inKolkata.And, I was no exception.


Then, 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!”


Time flew away like a whirlwind thereafter




Today on a lazy Sunday morning, after thirty long years, as I was sitting inside my study-room and was chatting with Maa, I heard a voice. It was a strangely familiar voice that kindled a childlike excitement in my heart.


The memorable yet faint voice again reverberated around the corners of our colony, “Popcorn! Magik Popcorn! Come and enjoy a mouthful of magic from the land of the djinns!”


I exclaimed in a sudden rush of ecstasy, “Isn’t that Dilawar Khan’s voice? What is he doing here after almost three decades?”


Maa was surprised too. I got up and ran down to the street. As my eyes caught a sight of what I was seeking, I finally saw him. 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 and observed. Dilawar was indeed selling his popcorn in his usual manner. The cup of smoking camphor was also present and he smiled while handing over the packets to the customers with the words, “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, this time,I observed that there was a queer difference in his style. Even though it was something insignificant, but it caught my fancy. Before handing over the packs of popcorn, Dilawar was picking up one piece from every pack and was placing it in his own mouth (as if trying to verify the taste before giving the popcorn to the customers). This was an unusual practice that I felt awkward about.


As the crowd of customers subsided a bit, I approached Dilawar, stood beside him and asked, “Dilawar, do you recognize me?”


His skin had crumpled and his health had deteriorated. His eyesight might have also become feebler. Strangely, he looked much older than his actual age. Dilawar scrutinized me and then said after a while, “Pravin baba?”


I smiled and replied, “Yes, its me.”


Dilawar patted me 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? Why did you decide to return after almost three decades?”


Dilawar started to prepare 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!Then, he joined the Indian Army to serve his Nation!”


“Where is he now?” I asked enthusiastically.


“I don’t know Pravin baba!” fumbled Dilawar, “When the war started in Kargil with our neighboring Nation, he was commissioned for duty! I sent him with my blessings and he fought with full valor. However, after a few days, I got the news from the army headquarters that he had been martyred!”


“What?” I ejaculated and then my voice chocked. 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 others suspected that he fought valiantly and fell while fighting!Alas, his body couldn’t be recovered from the treacherous trenches! But, I still have hope, even though decades have passed. My feeble heart tells me that, one day, my brave Ahmed will return! The Army and the Nation has rewarded him with a medal for his bravery and his supreme sacrifice!However, the heart of this father still believes 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 Kolkata, 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, that one piece with the magic spell, among all these packs of popcorn, 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 every piece from my pack of popcorn and made a wish myself, “Magic of the djinns, please bring back our brave little Ahmed! Bring him backfrom the threshold of infinity, to his aging father, old Dilawar Khan! I pray that every soldier of our motherland would be able to come back 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!”


Prasun Roy from Kolkota, India has written a bokk Ringo & the Yogi published by the Srishti Publishers and Distributors. He writes stories in genres of adventure, mystery, thrill and young adult fiction.


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