The hotel was buzzing with the busy eaters. Idlis of Alankar hotel attracted all the south Indian food lovers of Raigarh like the honeybees. The long queue outside the famed hotel jammed the traffic on both sides of the road. Many new relations blossomed in the long line for Idlis and many momentary rivalries were made too. In the push and pull of the impatient crowd, new relations bloomed like the petals of a flower. But, in the end, when they carried their favorite idlis home, their faces shone in elation.
The idlis were not meant for all. For all the unlucky off-springs of nameless parents, it was a distant dream. Every day a few rag pickers stood at the end of the long line in the hope to be blessed with the owner's charity. They waited for their turn to get a few tasty idlis on charity. On many days, they had to return an empty stomach due to the bad mood of the owner. On lucky days, the owner would smile and call them loudly to give the left out idlis to the starved tattered boys. The morning charity by the owner brought smiles on the sunken faces of the skeletal frames of bones. It brought momentary joy on their sunburnt faces.
Hero was the leader of the orphan gang. One day, he secretly tiptoed through the long queue to study the owner's mood. When he returned smilingly, meant that they would get a sumptuous breakfast. Nowadays, the smiling on Hero's face was missing. It was before one month, he had smiled last. It was a busy Monday. The music of the devotional songs was louder than the morning gossips. Hero shouted from the distance to his friends to remain calm. His hubbies were impatiently waiting for a few idlis on the other side of the road. They had all slept empty stomach in the previous night. Like every morning, they began their day searching for food as orphans. Like squirrels their eyes were fixed at the customer's polythene that radiated vapors of hot idlis spearding the aroma of delicious coconut chutney. The boys sniffed its smell from the distance like the quarreling hungry dogs. The smell delayed their hunger for a moment but their desires for the Idlis grew deeper as the morning crowd started thinning. They all waited at the hotel entrance like the gatekeepers without knowing what would each get to eat. One by one, when the outgoing buyers' left the place emptying the hotel the silent onlookers consoled themselves.
A yellow school bus stopped on the hotel side of the road. The helper and the kids got down from the bus one by one. The man in uniform whistled loudly to chide away the rickety lads from the place. Hero rushed to the place to stop the new customers. Every time the school bus came, they had to return with a gloomy face without idlis. The helper and the boys would empty the remaining idlis, even the long waiting visitors had to return home without their favorite delicacy.
Hero rushed towards the helper, "Bhaiyya, You see, all the little boys have got down of the bus. Why don't you get them back into the bus first? Now, when the railway's gate would open, this road would overflow with the vehicles." The helper smiled back and strode towards the hotel carrying some twenty tiffin boxes. The clamor of the empty tiffin boxes caught the attention of all the onlookers. Hero again followed him and stopped, "This road is very busy in the morning. Your kids are going here and there. See, where they are going?" He pointed his fingers to show the running boys on the road. The helper became angry at him, "Who are you to tell me about my duty? Stay away from me! They will board the bus when I come back. By the way, they are not beggars like you." The analogy nauseated him. He stood there without any reply. He knew it was almost an everyday affair. There was no meaning to sermonize him further on the children's safety as a rag-picker himself.
He turned back with a heavy heart to declare the morning outcome to his friends, "Today, No Idlis, let's go from here." His announcement stopped the morning clamor for a few seconds. The boys surrounded him as if he was a thief. He had stolen their morning joy. One little boy pulled his fingers saying, "Hero, I feel very hungry. My stomach is paining; can you get one idli for me from the hotel. I have five rupees. Take it." Hero caught his arms; patted on his head and hugged him. Hunger is indescribable. He had experienced all types of hunger: one day would not get him to sleep; two days' pained his legs and hands in the night; three, four and five days' weakened him to the extent of freezing his body and after a month's hunger, he could not recognize even his face in the mirror. Yet, they all survived hunger like the camel in desert.
The teary eyes of the little boy ignited his spirit again. He walked into the hotel and called the helper out. The man in uniform simply hated him. Hero pleaded, "You can get Idlis from the other hotel; please, don't buy here." He pushed him and called the owner. The old man was busy in the morning worshipping. The loud ringing bells silenced his call. The bus helper pulled his hands and shouted, "Uncle ji, first you drive this nasty boy out of this place. Then only, I will buy Idlis from your hotel. He stinks like a rotten pig. He is forcing me not to buy idlis from your hotel." The owner stopped his worship and slapped the boy on his face. He yelled, "You idiot, again you have come here. Go away! Neither, I will call my people to beat you." The pain of his stomach was heavier than his slap on his face. He rubbed his swollen face with his palms and started running. His friends ran behind him feeling he had already got many idlis. They were all cheering in joy.
A railway track separated the town into two halves. On the other side of the track, there were no residential areas. Tall banyan trees adorned the two sides of the road. The government offices were located at a distance. Hero sat under a tree after crossing the railway's track. The place remained shady throughout the day making the place the most suitable for mobile food and fruit vendors. He was panting heavily. A few minutes later, his friends joined him and scratched his already torn shirt and pant for food. He lied on the ground. The frustrated kids kicked him to show their anger. Their kicking solaced him as the small kids were able to vent their anger at least and would stop asking for food throughout the day. A cool breeze calmed his body. He was tired and fell asleep in a few minutes.
A loud crashing noise broke his morning nap. He woke up and sat to discover the most shocking scene of his life. The school bus was hit by a train in the middle of the track. The speeding engine had skidded the small bus up to a hundred meters. He immediately started running toward the spot where the bus lied overturned. The driver had jumped from his seat and was lying on the ground. Noises of children were unbearable. The same helper wasn't seen in the vehicle. Hero got into the bus and started removing one by one kid. They were all crying. He looked around; there was no casualty as the train was slow. A small kid was stuck under the seat and laid there senseless. Then, he pulled him and sprinkled water on his face. He removed fifteen kids but the helper and the driver were missing. Their school bags, tiffin boxes, and water bottles were scattered on the ground. He looked back; the idlis were lying on the ground. His hunger was gone now. Then, he took them to the shadowy tree and gave water to everyone. In a few minutes, police reached blowing horn with an ambulance. The constables ran towards the bus and checked the vehicle once again. They returned back with the senseless driver and injured helper. The driver gained sense after sprinkling water on his face. He was in shock and not able to utter a word. The helper cried in pain as one of his hands was broken. The constable announced, "Sir, All kids are safe; they have received minor injuries. The driver is in a shock whereas the helper's hand is broken." Immediately all were taken into the ambulance and left for the hospital blowing siren. The inspector came to Hero and held his arms tightly. The boy thought, he would slap him but he lifted him in his arms and shouted, "You have saved fifteen kids today." Then he hugged him in tearful eyes. Hero had no idea, why was he embracing him. Then, the inspector took him in his police car and drove to the station.
Suddenly Hero became famous overnight. His photos came on all newspapers and journalists rushed to his broken thatch for interview. He was tired of giving interviews. People started giving money, dresses, cycle, and many gifts praising his bravery. The school Principal called him and promised to sponsor his education up to class twelfth. The local MLA and the Collector also felicitated him with valuable gifts.
A week had passed and his life completely changed in seven days. He was no more an orphan rag-picker anymore. His friends in the slum enjoyed the overnight fame of their friend. Yet, the fame didn't change his fate and still, they had to search for food after a week. Without money, his haunt for food resumed after fifteen days. He kept roaming on the streets in search of food for his friends. A few generous people offered food but he felt bad asking them every day.
The little kids always pulled his new shirt asking for food but he had no answer. Then, one day he carried all the gift items like new dresses, cycles, school bags, and trophies to visit the same hotel. The owner welcomed him with loud clapping and took pride in knowing him for long in front of the customers. He walked towards the counter and requested, "Uncle, I have a small request." The old man patted his back and was eager to know, "Yes, Hero, Tell me." He whispered, "You take all these items but you have to promise something." He smiled with raised eyebrows and replied, "Yes, What do you want from me?" Hero looked around and pleaded, "Please give us breakfast every day in exchange for all these materials."Then, he pushed all the items one by one and showed him anxiously. The old man became serious for a few seconds and remained silent. He pulled him near the counter and announced, "Everyone, please your attention. Hero and his friends will eat breakfast every day in our hotel forever, till I am alive without paying a single paisa."The waiter nodded his head and loudly replied, "Yes, Hero and his friends are our guests forever." The eaters present in the hotel stood and clapped for the decision of the owner. He looked at the boy's face and whispered, "Hero, Take all these items with you. You need not have to give anything to me but one thing, I want in return from you." The boy looked worried as to what could be his demand. He smiled and said, "My Hotel's name from today onwards will become Hero Hotel but not Alankar if you permit."