The Chacha with a magic mantra

Meet Chacha Deepak, who year after year lights up people’s lives with the spirit of Diwali. For five days he plays the part of the Indian 'Santa Claus' spreading cheer and goodwill. INDIRA RODERICKS encounters the magical and mystical Chacha Deepak to find out what's behind the greasepaint.

He is a Muslim by birth, educated in a Christian missionary school at Chennai, is a member of the Free Masonary Movement and lives in a cosmopolitan residential society. Yet, for the past seven years he dons a bright orange robe, red waistcoast with chains of pearls around his neck, bushy eyebrows, thick moustache, a gold and red turban and transforms into the very lovable and magical Chacha Deepak, Akbarallys’ Diwali mascot.

On his passport his name is Moiz Hoosein, but he prefers to be called Chacha Deepak. Once every year Moiz Hoosein takes a break from his consultancy business and transforms himself into Chacha Deepak, a character he has been for the past seven years. He has been playing the part for the longest at the store, even though the character was introduced almost 50 years ago.

Chacha Deepak became the character quite accidently. His wife saw a newspaper advertisement by Akbarallys asking for someone who can play the role. “My wife’s late uncle Mr. Mohammed Hathiwlla was the earlier Chacha Deepak at the store. In those days they used to ride a white decorated carriage driven by a white horse all over the city. Naturally, the crowds were much less and he went to schools, hospitals, orphanages... wherever there were children,” he recalled. Chacha Deepak is a ‘travel man’ that’s what he likes to call himself. He was with TCI as a sales manager, then went on to freelance for a number of travel companies and till today continues to consult in the industry. “I have seen half the world... having travelled to the US, Europe, the Middle East and the Far East. And it is this travel that has made me the kind of person I am. I love children... probably that’s why I got the job. I have the patience to amuse them, tease them and listen to their whining,” he said matter-of-factly. In the past years he has been at the Fort branch of Akbarallys for a week, sometimes even ten days. But this year with the markets down and the spirit not quite there, he was present for a mere five days (November 10 to 14). Initially, the crowds were few and far between but business has been picking up. “Today is the last day that I will be here, and the crowds have increased in the past two days. Children look forward to the character. And, mind you not all come to buy at the store. Some parents bring the child just to sit on my lap and take home a toy or sweets,” he said yesterday.

After so many years in the business he has learnt the tricks of the trade. Like for instance, he will tell you how to handle a child who repeatedly pulls at his beard or moustache. Or jabs him in his belly. Or refuses to get down from his lap. “Often more, it is the mummys who get more excited with the character. I often wonder who is really the child. Sometimes it is the children who know that I’m not real, and the parents who appear to be so awestruck,” he laughed.

Chacha Deepak certainly visits schools and orphanages. In fact this year, invitations were sent out to 10,000 children in various schools inviting them to be part of this festival. If an organisation wants him to be part of the celebrations, they simply have to call up the store. Pointing to the ever faithful Hillary Pinto, who has been with the store for 20 years and assists him during the festival he said, “He’s the man who takes those calls, And accordingly, we try and arrange the visit. Sometimes there’s too much happening, but we try to accommodate everyone.” So, what is Chacha Deepak’s message for the festive season. To spread peace, love and harmony. After all, he explained, what is Diwali. It is the festival of lights to celebrate the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya. It’s all about spreading joy and happiness. And in our own way that’s what we try to do. Although Chacha Deepak has no bad experiences to tell, he does have a few memorable ones. Like the time a spastic child on a wheelchair came to the store. And seeing Chacha Deepak she was so overwhelmed with excitement that she was able to raise her arms, something she has not been able to do for years. “That was really touching... it did bring tears to my eyes,” he said. Sometimes, I am able to spend a lot of time with each child, sometimes barely a few minutes. Honestly, everything depends on the crowds at the store. Even when I’m stepping in and out of the store the little urchins get all excited. I give them sweets, a few face masks and how their faces light up.”

When asked how long will he continue to be Chacha Deepak, he said, “Only God can decide that. He is the supreme kind of heaven and earth. And my future will be decided by him. If it is his will that I continue for many years, then so be it. If not, I’ll move on to other things, but continue to spread happiness.”