"Two paise each, two paise each." The ice cream vendor shouted in front of the school gate during recess hour.
It was peak summer and a hot sun blazed overhead turning the remaining greenery of the adjacent school ground into lifeless straw. But the scorching summer was unable to stop the students from playing. Some students played football while others surrounded the ice cream vendor and fruit sellers.
"Do you know that ice cream is made from water from the dirty drains? They are full of germs." Raju told his best friend, Saroj, when the latter offered to share a cup of vanilla ice cream with him.
Rebuffed by his friend, Saroj started licking the ice cream from the cup. That way it would last longer. Raju could not buy one because his mother was not able to spare any money. He invented the story of the drain water to cover up his poverty.
Though both of them were grade three students, Raju was more brilliant of the two and a keen observer of things around him. He had a talent to discover. Raju thought that he would make up for the deficiencies in studies later. There was sufficient time for that.
"Why don't we visit the ice plant one day and learn how to make ice? Ice is as good as ice cream. Isn't it?" Raju asked his friend.
"I really don't know. I've never tried ice. But I like ice cream." Saroj said truthfully.
"Don't you know the difference? If you add milk and sugar to ice, it becomes ice cream. Do you like milk and sugar?"
"Not at all. In fact, when my mother enters with a glass of sweetened milk, I run away."
"Then? Why do you take the risk of gulping polluted water in the form of ice cream?"
"You are right. I will not take ice cream any more. This one will be the last one for me."
"Okay. Now listen carefully. I will take you to the ice plant tomorrow during the recess hour."
"To learn how one can make ice. Have you already forgotten? I told you that right in the beginning."
"But I don't know where the ice plant is. Won't the guards stop us at the gate?"
"Don't worry. I will take care of those things. We'll come back within the recess hour. No one will come to know."
Saroj had a lot of confidence in Raju, though most of their adventures so far had been futile. The next day the duo left the school stealthily as soon as the recess gong was sounded.
The ice plant was a ten minutes' walk from their school. The plant was housed in a small shed, located by the side of the municipal water tank. A huge deafening sound was coming from inside the plant as they neared it.
"They use clean water of this reservoir to make ice. You can see that." Raju told his friend pointing to the several metal pipes that linked the two.
"Many machines are required. Only water is not sufficient. How will you get those machines?"
"Once we are inside the plant, we'll learn that."
The duo sneaked into the ice plant without any one noticing them. Huge blocks of ice were being taken out from ice chambers and loaded onto waiting trolleys, which carried the ice blocks out of the plant premises.
Big motors were running with belts, which in turn, rotated bigger wheels. It was so noisy inside that nothing else was audible.
Raju pulled Saroj by his sleeve, brought him outside, and said, "I've learnt how ice is made. Let's go back to school now. We have to reach there on time."
"I couldn't make heads or tails of ice making. The big blocks of ice were ghostly. They must be taking the blocks to hospitals or officers' bungalows, or some other places for sale. You can't consume such big chunks of ice."
"Ice can be formed in smaller pieces if the size of the ice chamber is smaller. With the knowledge I gathered at the ice plant, I can make ice now. You don't have to buy ice creams any more."
"I'll tell you later. Let's run now, otherwise we'll be late for school."
The two friends started running and reached their school just in time. After school hours, the duo sat in one corner of the common room. Saroj was impatient. He said,” Now tell me how to make ice."
"When we were inside the ice plant, did you observe or feel anything special?"
"Everything was special. I got scared with so much sound. Can't remember anything else."
"That's the point. There was so much scary noise inside. The machines produced that."
"Therefore, what you need to make ice is water and a lot of scary noise. Isn't it?"
"Strange! It didn't strike me. You are a genius, Raju."
"Now listen. Come to my house in the evening. We'll make plenty of ice."
Saroj went to Raju's place, which was a thatched house in the slums, and where poor people lived. Raju's mother knew that Saroj was her son's best friend. She offered him some cookies and talked kindly to him.
She said, "Why don't you tell your friend to study seriously? He is my only hope, Saroj. If his father was alive...." She wiped her tears secretly and left the place.
By this time, Raju brought some water in a covered vessel.
He said,” This is the ice chamber, and the lid is securely fixed. It now resembles the ice chamber at the plant. We don't have machines, but it doesn't matter. We'll make sufficient noise for the water to get scared and freeze inside. After all, the machines were doing the same thing."
After this, the two friends started making terrible and scary noises in front of the covered vessel, in the firm belief that the more they made such noise, the quicker the water would freeze inside, into ice. They went on making that futile attempt for a pretty long time.
Raju's mother knew why Raju wanted to make ice. Discovering how far her son's ingenuity could take him to cover up their abject poverty, the poor woman wept silently again. This time the tears came in torrents. She couldn't stop them.