Twelve year old Anil had just finished his breakfast when he heard  his name being called. He came out. It was Azhar his  best friend.
 
"Have you heard Anil?"
 
"Heard  what  Ajju?" Anil sighed and asked. It  was  Azhar's habit to start every conversation with a question.
 
"Someone is trying to destroy our Park and build a  shopping complex in its place."
 
"What?"  Anil sat down on the steps. "B..but how can  anyone do that? It is our Park."
 
The Park had become an important part of their lives. It was situated right in the middle of Bapuji colony, a cluster of small houses  in one corner of Hyderabad. Actually it could  hardly  be called  a Park in the conventional sense. All it had was  a  huge banyan  tree,  two mango trees and a few  of rocks  scattered  in between  the trees. The banyan tree dominated the Park. From  its spreading  branches  aerial  roots had grown   down,  and  formed supporting  pillars.  The  enormous tree  was like  a  mini  zoo. Squirrels,  snails  chameleons, beetles, birds of many  hues  and various  other tiny and not so tiny creatures, had made it  their home.  Anil would often climb onto a branch and spend hours  just watching  the little creatures, preying, eating and  playing  together. He and Azhar had even built a tree house using planks and a rope. During the day, in summer months, they would sit in their tree house and read books or play chess.
 
The Park provided unlimited opportunities of fun and  frolic to  Anil  and his gang. The  tree trunks served  as  wickets  and under  the shade of the trees the youngsters played cricket.  The trees  and  rocks provided  enough scope for a game of  hide  and seek. Gilli danda, Kabaddi, seven stones... the Park  was a great playground all the year around.
 
The  women of the colony would tie ropes to the branches  of the  trees and make temporary 'jhoolas'. Sitting on   the  'jhoolas',  swaying in the cool breeze, the women would   sing  songs, play 'antakshari'  or share gossip. On Sunday afternoons, the men of  the  colony would sit under the shade of  the  trees  playing cards or having heated debates on the state of the nation.
 
For  the   lower middle class residents of  the  colony  who could  not  afford  the luxury of going  to  expensive  amusement parks,  the  Park  provided an easily accessible as  well  as  an economical alternative.
 
The  very  idea  of the Park ceasing to  exist  was  sending shivers down Anil's spine.
 
"Let us go and talk to Rohan bhai," Anil suggested.
 
Rohan Reddy was a press reporter working for Deccan  Chronicle. Whenever they were in trouble Anil and Azhar always went  to him for guidance. Rohan  too was fond of the kids and would often join them for a game of cricket.
 
"Anil,  I  too came to know only this morning.  There  is  a builder  called Firoze Baltiwala who has purchased this land.  It apparently  belonged to a businessman who migrated to the  States recently. Baltiwala is now planning to construct a multi-storeyed shopping arcade here."
 
"Isn't  there  something we can do to prevent him  from  destroying our Park?"
 
"Legally no!"
 
"Suppose all of us go and plead he might agree."
 
"I don't think there is any chance. For people like Baltiwala  money is more important than the feelings of a bunch of  kids and their parents."
 
"Rohan  bhai there is no harm in trying. Can you please  get us an appointment with him?"
 
"I'll try."

***

Three days later Anil, Azhar, Manpreet, Jaggu, Gopi and  Joe were standing in front of Feroze Baltiwala who was talking on the phone.   He was  short, plump and very fair. He sported a  toothbrush moustache and thick glasses.
 
"He looks like a well fed Hitler," thought Anil.
 
Baltiwala's  office was really impressive. It was  airconditioned  and had wall to wall carpeting. There was  an   executive table  in the middle of the room with three chairs in  front.  On the  table on one side was a P.C. and on other were  three  telephones.'
 
"Why does he need three telephones?" Anil wondered.
 
As he surveyed the rich and luxurious room, where everything reeked  of money, Anil felt very conscious. He was acutely  aware  of  his  plain white shirt, with two buttons missing,  his  brown half pant which was frayed at the edges and his hawai chappals.
 
Baltiwala replaced the receiver.
 
"Yes," he barked frowning at them.
 
"G...good morning Sir, we are from Bapuji colony."
 
"Yes, yes I know. What do you want?"
 
Anil  stepped  forward  and handed him a letter.  It  was  a petition  requesting  Baltiwala  not to  construct  his  shopping complex  at the site of the Park. Rohan had drafted the  petition and Anil  and Azhar had gone from door to door collecting  signatures.
 
Baltiwala read it  and threw it on the table.
 
"What  is  this  nonsense about  a Park. There  is  no  Park there. It is only a barren piece of land with  three, old   trees and  a  few ugly rocks. I have bought that  land and I  am  jolly well going to carry out my plan."
 
"But  sir,  if you destroy the Park we'll have no  place  to play. "
 
"So  what  do  you want me to  do? I am  not  the  Municipal Corporation  of Hyderabad. Go talk to the municipal  authorities. They are responsible for building parks and playgrounds not me."
 
"Sir, please, we beg you...."
 
"There is nothing I can do. The only reason I agreed to meet you is because that reporter kept pestering me. Now run along and don't bother me."
 
The boys trooped out, their faces glum.

***

"Rohan  bhai,  doesn't this Baltiwala  have  any  children?" asked Anil.
 
"He  has  a  six year old daughter, Sharon.  Poor  thing,  I really pity her."
 
"Why?"
"Last  year her mother died in an accident. Since  then  she has  withdrawn completely into herself. She has become very  subdued"
 
"I don't understand? " Azhar asked.
 
"She  doesn't talk to anyone. She doesn't laugh or cry.  She just sits, staring into space. She seems to have lost interest in everything."
 
"Has her father taken her to a doctor?"
 
"Of course. But there doesn't seem to be any improvement."
 
"How do you know all this, Rohan Bhai?" asked Manpreet.
 
"Sharon's nanny, Mrs. Williams is my friend's aunt."
 
The  boys  remained silent for sometime  and  then  suddenly Anil asked, "Bhai, can you persuade Mrs. Williams to bring Sharon to the Park."
 
"Why?"
 
"I'll tell you later. But please can you do it?"
 
Rohan  thought  for  some time and  then  said,"Okay.   I'll request Mrs. Williams. I think she'll agree."

***

Two days late Rohan told Anil, "Baltiwala is going to Mumbai for  a fortnight, this Sunday. At around five in the evening,  on Monday, Mrs. Williams will get Sharon to the Park. They will stay only  for  10-15 minutes. And Anil," Rohan said  looking  at  his young friend, "No funny business."
 
"Of course not," Anil said and rushed off to inform the rest of his gang his plan.
 
Monday  at five fifteen a blue Maruti cruised to a  halt  in front  of the Park. Anil and his friends were waiting.  Anil  ran ahead  and opened the car door. Inside was a pretty girl  dressed in a red frock staring glumly into space. She looked pale and was painfully thin.
 
"Hello  Sharon! How are you? I am Anil?" Anil said  offering his hand. There was no response from Sharon. She continued  staring into space.
 
Anil  turned  to the lady sitting next to  Sharon.  She  was plump with a large, jovial face and bright sparkling eyes.
 
"Good  evening Mrs. Williams. Can both of you come  out  and sit  under the shade of the banyan tree? We have kept two  chairs for you."
 
"Okay son, but we won't stay for very long. And you can call me aunty, everyone does."
 
Anil had prepared a skit for Sharon's benefit. It was  based on the story of the lion and the hare from the Panchatantra.  The gang  had put  masks and even applied a little make up. Anil  was the  anchor, Azhar the lion and Jaggu, the hare. The others  were playing the roles of the rest of the animals in the fable.
 
Anil  had improvised the fable  to make it modern. The  dialogues were  funny and carried a lot of punch. Aunty enjoyed  the skit thoroughly but Sharon was unmoved.
 
After the skit Aunty was all praise,"Boys you did a  wonderful job."
 
"But  aunty what is the use? Sharon didn't like  it,"  Azhar said.
 
"I  know  son. It is impossible to involve  Sharon  in  anything."
 
"Aunty can you come again tomorrow?" Anil asked.
 
"Why? Are you planning another skit?"
 
"No, I am planning something else."
 
"Okay, we'll come at the same time tomorrow."
 
Next  evening Anil and his gang  dressed up as clowns.  They did  acrobatics,made faces, sang silly songs, told sillier  jokes but Sharon still remained uninterested.
 
Anil's friends  started losing patience. 
 
"Anil, I don't know what you are trying to do, but I am  now fed up," complained Azhar.
 
"Ajju is right. There is no use. The girl doesn't seem to be interested in anything," said Joe.
 
"Please  Ajju,  Joe. Have some patience.  Poor  child,  just think of her. She must  really be suffering."
 
Persuaded by Anil Aunty brought Sharon to the Park the  next evening.  As they were getting out of the car they saw a  strange sight.  A human pyramid had been constructed just below  a  mango tree. Six boys were standing in a circle with their arms on  each other's shoulder's. On their shoulders were standing four  others and two more on the shoulders of these four. Anil was standing on top  completing the pyramid. He was trying to reach up to a  ripe and  juicy  mango  hanging from the mango tree.  As  Anil  raised himself  on his toes to pluck  the mango someone  below  sneezed. Anil lost his balance, wobbled precariously and then fell off. In a  few  seconds the rest of the boys came tumbling down  like   a pack  of  cards and lay sprawled on the ground. It  was  truly  a comical  sight with Jaggu on top of Anil, Azhar's  leg  entangled with Manpreet's arms, Joe's head caught between Gopi's thighs....
 
Suddenly  the  stillness of the evening was  broken  by  the sound  of  a child's laughter. Anil looked  around.  He  couldn't believe  his eyes or ears. Sharon's head was thrown back and  she was laughing with absolute abandon. Her peals of laughter  echoed in  the  Park. It was the sweetest sound Anil had  heard  in  his life.
 
That was the beginning....
 
Slowly and steadily Sharon become friends with Anil and  the rest  of  the  gang. She would come daily, play  hide  and  seek, blind  man's buff, seven stones, passing the parcel,  hop  skotch and even cricket.
 
Ten  days  later, Aunty told Anil,  "Son  tomorrow  Sharon's father is coming back. He would never allow Sharon to come here."
 
"Aunty  do  me one final favour. Just get her here  for  one last time at five tomorrow.
 
"Okay, son.You have done so much for Sharon, I can't  refuse you,  even though there might  be trouble if Mr. Baltiwala  comes to know."
 
"And  aunty please don't tell Mr. Baltiwala  anything  about the improvement in Sharon's condition. Please try to keep  Sharon from meeting him till evening."
 
"That  shouldn't be difficult. Mr. Baltiwala's flight is  at twelve.  From the airport he will go straight to his  office  and come home only at night."

***

Next day at four Anil went to Baltiwala's office.
 
"Please  maam, can I see Mr. Baltiwala for a  minute? It  is very urgent," he told the receptionist.
 
She  looked at him as if trying to place him. "Are  you  the fellow who came  last month with a few more boys?"
 
"Yes,  maam."
 
"I  don't  think  I can help you. Mr.  Baltiwala   has  just returned after two weeks  and is terribly busy today."
 
"Please maam, tell him it is about the Park. And  I  promise you I won't take more than a minute."
 
The  receptionist  mumbled something into the  intercom  and then told Anil, "Okay, go in. But only for a minute."
 
When  Anil entered Baltiwala was dictating  a letter to  his secretary.
 
"Yes, what is it now?" he asked.
 
"Sir,  can  you  come  today to  the  Park  at  around  five fifteen."
 
"Why?"
 
"Please Sir. I can't tell you any more. It is a surprise."
 
"Young  man,  do you think I have no other work but  to  run around accepting your silly invitations."
 
"Please, please sir. This is the last time I'll ever request you  for anything. And believe me sir, you will not  regret  it." Anil completed his carefully rehearsed dialogue.
 
"Are  you planning a demonstration or some kind of  strike?" Baltiwala asked looking carefully at Anil.
 
"Of course not, sir."
 
Baltiwala hesitated for a few second and then said, "Okay  I have  a meeting with my architect at 5.30. My 'land'  is  on  the way. But I'll be there only for a few minutes."
 
"Okay  sir,  thank you sir," Anil said and ran  out  of  the room.
 
Sharp  at five fifteen, Baltiwala asked his driver  to  stop the  car a few metres away from the Park. He got down and  walked towards the banyan tree. He saw a group of boys playing  cricket. There  was also a girl with them. Her back was to Baltiwala.  She took a run up and bowled to Anil. He took a swipe, missed and was clean bowled. The girl jumped in the air, clapping her hands  and shouting. As she turned back, Baltiwala almost fell down. It  was Sharon,  his little Sharon. He couldn't believe his eyes.  Sharon who  hadn't  spoken  a word in months, who had  not  so  much  as smiled, was shouting, yelling, laughing and jumping about. It was a miracle!

***

Later,  Baltiwala  came to know from Mrs. Williams  how  the miracle had taken place. Next day he called Anil home.
 
"Son, I am really grateful to you and your friends. What  I, Mrs. Williams and the doctors couldn't achieve in months you have managed  to do in  less than a fortnight. I have decided to  dump the idea of building a shopping complex. Instead I'll construct a proper park."
 
"Thank  you, sir. But please do not destroy the banyan  tree or the mango trees."
 
"Of course not. I wouldn't dream of doing that. The new Park will  have a boundary wall, slides and swings so that all of  you can  enjoy even more. The banyan and mango trees will remain  untouched."
 
"That will be fantastic sir. My friends will be thrilled  to hear this."
 
"The  person most thrilled will be my Sharon. And  you  know Anil I have even thought of a name for the Park." He stopped  and looking at Anil said, "It will be called the Miracle Park."

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