By Ranjani Rammohan.
On the morning of 15th August, there was palpable excitement in the air at the City Center Mall Mangalore, much more than the usual patriotic fervor that we normally associate with Independence days.
Why, you ask?? Well, this Independence day, our kids from the ‘CARDTS center for children infected with HIV’ had been invited, yes, that’s right, invited to be a part of the celebrations. To add to this excitement, our children were also being allowed to play in Fun City, the mall’s video game arcade.
It was 9:30 as the kids arrived at the main entrance of the mall, which was all decked up for the big occasion led by Arun (MAD volunteer/non-stop talker). It took them all their effort to not run right into the mall and go exploring its vast uncertainties.
As ambassadors of MAD, they stayed on their best behaviour and showed impeccable discipline and stayed in a straight line (the kind we had to adhere to in school, but never did).
Ironically however the Mall authorities and volunteers who were waiting with bated breaths for the kids, showed no control. They ran towards them greeting them with unequivocal enthusiasm and ushered them into the elegantly decorated atrium of the mall. I guess there’s no right age to revisit your childhood.
A plethora of decorations to choose from and what catches the eyes of our kids first?? The escalator of course!!
There began the usual barrage of questions “Akka, moving steps?”, “Akka, can we go??”, “How does it work?” And so they went up and down the escalator a few times and admired the decor before heading to the conference room of the mall.
Here, waiting for them were dignitaries like Mr. Dharmaraj, the architect of the awesomeness that is City Center mall, Captain Ganesh Karnik, who inspired both the kids and volunteers to be socially useful and Mr. Krishna Palemar, Minister of environment and ecology.
Captain Karnik instilled in all of us a sense of patriotism that cannot be described. He made the kids understand the true importance of the day and how it should inspire each and every one of us to work towards a better tomorrow.
He quoted Bapuji saying “Be the change you want to see in the world”. When he quizzed them they made us all proud with their answers, even when one of the younger kids, when asked to name a freedom fighter, said “Gandhi Jayanthi”.
They then headed outside for the hoisting of the flag and the aura became even more intense with patriotism and goodwill.
Back inside the mall, with that growing feeling of pride and warmth inside, their stomachs were grumbling with hunger, adding to the hustle of the mall.
This hunger was intensified when they were made to sit opposite the massive mouth-watering masterpiece of a cake in the front row of the VIP seats of the program.
After a special introduction of the kids, they were called upon stage to mesmerize one and all with a well-prepared prayer song that earned them much praise.
The Dignitaries then went on to distribute gifts to the kids, which was accepted with beady eyes and wide smiles (much like those of any prestigious award recipient. Bharat Ratna anyone!).
What followed was the cutting of the cake by the dignitaries and then the much-awaited announcement “Breakfast will be served in the food court”.
So we headed up once again, this time by the elevators, also equally fascinating, and satiated ourselves with some scrumptious food amongst the big shots of Mangalore.
Occasionally, people would run up to our kids with coffee/tea or ice-creams or asking them if they wanted seconds. Interesting conversation was brewing among the kids at a table with Manoj wanting to know if this was like a five-star hotel.
Afraid of being ridiculed however, he and partner-in-crime Chidanand said that it was actually Jayashree’s question, who being the only girl on the table was left defenseless.
After which they continued to pull her leg claiming she had eaten their ice creams without realizing that they could have more even otherwise. The other kids and volunteers watched the entertainment the two little trouble makers now provided, adding to the satisfaction of the meal.
Towards the end of this their energies increased. Was this boost of energy due to the full stomach or the sudden realization that Fun City was next on the agenda? I do not know! And, as Greeshma announced that we were now going to fun city, their hoots of joy echoed to spread many a smile in the food court.
At FUN CITY the staff greeted the kids with a first class welcome and led them first to the playpen. Here the kids wreaked havoc and rushed to get to all the slides, to throw balls at the dog with the bone shaped hole which barked with every hit on target and jumped on the trampoline which was 2 year old Deepu’s favourite.
The crowd that gathered to watch how such a simple thing could give these kids so much joy was moved and had many nice things to say to the kids and volunteers.
Up next were the Bumper cars for which all the guys were very excited. Manoj, however was a little tensed as a volunteer earlier led him to believe he needed a license for the car.
Once they proved that none of them should ever be driving on the roads they were led into the party hall of fun city where each of them was given popcorn and more gifts and then the traditional photo session began.
At the end of this they were led back into the conference room where the formerly huge beautiful cake awaited in pieces for the now slightly tired kids . They then gave us their requests for their next trip before heading back..
“Can we go to an amusement park?”, “No, no, lets come back here and play car and bike racing games!” “Let’s watch a movie”, “Next time Scary house!”
And then they had to head back after carefully loading all their gifts into the van and holding onto the memories of the day, which they will cherish for a long time, their Thank-you’s echoing for a long time after they left.
On a day when the undercurrent of thought was about freedom, the emancipation of young spirits, from the isolations imposed on their life experiences – through no fault of their own was well and truly heartening.
The unbridled joy of expectancy, the momentary quenching of curiosity by newer experiences, opening up of new areas and new boundaries, I’m sure that it was a far more memorable day for them, than it was for me, although we’re all in this with the belief that one day we’ll reduce that gulf.
The same kind of belief that lit the their eyes, as they bounded up and down on the trampolines.
The same effort that they exuded as tried harder each time to jump higher, unconsciously filtering out the ‘worldly-wise’ looks cast on their efforts by bystanders, believing that if they did it well enough – they’d launch themselves as if into space, and into a new world.