I gingerly stepped into the area where we had first met Kiran, Bapan, and the other children of Dream India, way back in 2005. There was a flyover nearby which wasn't there earlier. But many other things still remained the same. Pramukh Vijay Co-operative housing society, is where a group of us lived and the building was still the same,
There was a lady standing to whom I asked if there was a Kiran or a Bapan there with absolutely no hope.
'Yes, right here,' she pointed to a door the top of which reached my chest level.
I could not believe what I just heard. I asked her if she could call them out and she opened the door into an empty room. She said that they must be playing in the nearby playground.
I hurried to the place along with Padmaja, another long standing DI volunteer. A group of boys were taking an innings break and chatting. They stopped and stared when they saw a woman enter the playground. Not an usual sight in those parts.
'Kiran Bapan hai kya?' I shouted out.
Many boys looked towards one direction and a tall lanky chap emerged from the crowd and walked towards me. 'Yes?' he said slightly confused.
'Hey Bapan. How are you? Remember me?' I asked.
He paused his step and looked long and hard. I won't ever forget his face with his puffed up cheeks. He and his elder brother used to fight over marbles and rush into the gutter to pick them up from the water there. His broken teeth, his innocence, and his embarrassed look when he made mistakes all were etched in my memory. And all my apprehensions of would I recognise these guys after so long, dissolved when I looked at his cheeks. I wont ever forget them!
'Sir?!!' he said tentatively at first and then more resoundingly. I nodded my head and flashed what was probably close to the biggest smile of my life. He moved forward with greater purpose now as I heard more voices of 'Sir' surround me. Three more boys rushed towards me.
'Sir, where have you been so long? You all went away without telling us!' said Santosh.
'How is Natraj sir? asked Shahid.
'How is Eshwar sir?' asked Bapan.
I could barely talk as I hugged them all, the handsome beautifully grown lads. Some of the other boys with them they were playing with asked them who we were.
'Ye Sir hai hamara! (He is our Sir) He taught us A, B, C, D...' said one proudly. My chest puffed up with so much pride it would have given a complex to a wrestler.
As I told them about Eshwar and Natraj and how we all went away to different places, I heard that Kiran got married.
'Kiran? Got married? And you didn't tell us?'
'Arey you all left and went and didn't even stay in touch' pat came the reply and all I could do was acknowledge and accept with a small element of shame.
'Sir, remember the place where we used to have classes? A huge tower has come up there,' Bapan said. 'We will forever remember that place fondly,' he added. It killed me, to use Holden Caufield's words.
'Do you have phones? Are you on Whatsapp?' I asked.
'We are on all social media,' they said bringing forth another wave of pride. Not saying for a moment that they are on social media or that they even used the phrase with so much ease because we taught them A, B, C, D at one point of time. But I, and am sure, Natraj, Eswar, and other friends of mine who were involved in teaching these kids at one point of time in the distant past, are all very elated to have worked with them for close to two years a decade back. We worked with them on English, we played games with them, we conducted sports day and cultural events for them, we worked with their community on health issues...pretty much every activity that Dream India does today in many parts of India has its genesis to these boys. And to that, we will forever be indebted to them.
15th of March, 2015 will remain one of the most emotional days for many in Dream India.