Behind this bus stop, lies a place. Dismissed as a huge ground with a rusty gate, people often miss seeing the cleanly swept little buildings, the colourful walls and the constant chatter from beyond the gate. A car stops in front of this gate, hesitantly, almost ready to reverse and go back on the main road. But as the rusty gate creaks open, a warmth seems to spread around the car. The buildings look brighter and the walls more colourful. As the car manoeuvres around the gate to park in the grounds, the watchman and several boys run to direct it correctly.
I step out of the car. A small boy, barely two feet tall, runs up to me, fashions a camera with his hands and goes 'Click!'. Three others watch this and begin to giggle. Before I know it, I'm dragged into a room where they're all playing. Hours go by, and we exhaust ourselves by playing every conceivable version of running and catching games. Finally, an older boy walks into the room and announces that it is lunch time. Bone-tired, we troop into the lunch room and grab plates.
Two ladies stand by the food, smiling at every child they serve, as they dole out generous portions of chawal and kadi. The little ones look eagerly into the huge vessel in search of pakodas and they are usually rewarded with a stern look that yields to a reluctant second serving of pakodas. The boys then look pointedly at my plate, so I'm served with extra pakodas as well. When everyone is served, we find a corner in the crowded room and tuck in.
I sit among the slightly older boys now, as they tell me about their schoolwork, talk shyly about their girl classmates and discuss what they'd like to do when they grow old enough to live independently. Before we know it, lunch time ends and we all scatter. The boys go into their respective classes and as I look around wondering what to do next, the little ones come back running and demand a story.
We find a shaded corner on the rooftop and settle down as the winter sun smiles benevolently on us. I begin telling them the story of Hansel and Gretel....but they children start pitching in their suggestions. The witch in the story develops fangs and becomes a ghost at midnight. The children get superpowers as they escape from the witch. The story begins to turn wild and grows completely out of a 'fairytale' proportion, but the kids enjoy weaving this tale so much, I don't have the heart to bring them back to the actual story. We get carried away, involving Harry Potter in the rescue mission as well. By now, the group of five little kids has turned into almost eleven kids of all ages, two puppies that alternate between whining and snoring, and the watchman, who comes to check the commotion. As the clock inches towards four, I reluctantly wrap the story up with a Happily Ever After. The kids let me go only on the condition that I return the next week with another story like this.
As the car slowly manoeuvres its way out of the boundaries, I glance at the rear view mirror. The kids are waving merrily for about two seconds, before they disappear into the rooms, eager to continue playing. On the entire journey home, I try combining my imagination and knowledge of fairy tales to come up with another bizarre story for our next meeting.
There is a change in the way I look at life. For those four hours, I'm treated with unconditional affection. The kids don't care if my hindi has an accent, if I can't really match their speed in running, or if I'm wearing my oldest and most threadbare sweatshirt. I'm there, we play, and that's enough. There are few places in this world, that welcomes you with such a bright atmosphere, brushing all your blues away. Some day, I'd love to go back, stand on the rooftop of the building and watch as the Qutub Minar salutes this unnoticed, quaint place every noon.