Daily chores and homework wrapped up, they make a beeline for a clearing near the village and sit there till the sun sets every evening. Afraid of being shooed away, they make sure they are in a neat queue, without making a noise.
What has Alipur and the villages around it, on the Delhi-Haryana border, fascinated is the construction of arguably India's first museum-cum-temple inside an Air Bus 310. The 160-ft-long, 60-ft-high, 80-tonne airplane, that once belonged to Air-India, is parked in what's been dubbed a "workshop" for the transformation.
Most of Alipur's population comprises labourers and factory workers. This is the closest they and neighbours from nearby villages have ever been to a plane. They look forward to having a free run of it soon, particularly the cockpit.
"I had seen an aeroplane only in films or in the sky. It looks so small from the ground. Par dekho ye kitna bada hai, iski poonch, iske pankh, iski body! Aisa lagta hai koi bada janwar khada hai, jaise koi badi shark, kitabon jaisi (But look it's so big, the tail, the wings, the body! It seems a big animal is standing, a shark, as in the books). I come here everyday and try to peep in," says 12-year-old Rekha, the daughter of a factory worker.
So far her hopes of being allowed in have been thwarted. "I have requested the uncle so many times, but he says we can go inside only when the work is done. Whenever a trolley passes, we request the driver to let us climb up, so that we can take a peep. The drivers let us sit in the trolley for hours. We all try to guess what is happening inside."
A private organisation, Sri Sai Aeronautics Pvt Ltd, run by a real-estate businessman, Rakesh Dikshit, came up with the idea of buying a discarded aeroplane and turning it into a museum-cum-Sai temple.
Dikshit, who is based in Pitampura, Delhi, purchased the A-I plane in February in Mumbai for Rs 40 lakh and from there, brought it to Delhi. "The idea was to do something special for the god I believe in, Shirdi Sai Baba. I have built a temple and also opened a trust in his name. I have researched and read up about Sai Baba and feel that this knowledge should be distributed. At the same time, I also wanted my museum to be different from others to attract visitors, including youth."
The fact that boarding a plane is a far-fetched dream for most was another motivating factor, Dikshit adds. The museum will be run on a no-profit, no-loss basis, he says.
Around 30 labourers are on the job, and have already pulled out all the seats from inside the plane. They will be levelling the floor, doing the wiring and revamping the interiors. The washroom, the pantry, entry-exit gates, the windows and, most importantly, the cockpit will be restored to give the visitors a feel of being inside an original airplane, says Dikshit. The seats that have been removed will be used later for seating.
Dikshit hopes to have the temple and museum ready by New Year. "Many people come to us with requests. They just want to go inside once and see how it looks like, but we do not allow anyone. Every evening, there is a rush outside the workshop, cars stop on the highway just to catch a glimpse. I am sure that this idea will be very successful," he says.
Describing the journey from Mumbai, Dikshit adds that it was very difficult bringing something as big from that far. First the plane was dismantled, with its tail, wings, front beak and middle body put apart. The parts were then loaded onto an 80-feet-long container. Given the height to which the plane rose once on the container, which may have proved a problem on the road, its roof was also removed.
The travel took almost a month. Once the plane reached Alipur, the parts were re-assembled in the workshop where it stands now, and the roof welded back. Dikshit chose the location as the Sai temple he previously constructed is nearby.
Dikshit's family supports what would appear a risky proposition. Says wife Shalini: "He suffered huge losses in his business. It is then that someone told him you should do something for Shirdi Sai Baba... Sai Baba has been there for the family in times of distress, this is the least we can do for him."
The children of Alipur have taken to quizzing each other on aeroplanes. Deepak, 14, has appointed himself their leader, directing the children to sit on the ground and instructing them on the specifics. Eager children raise hands to ask questions, which he answers like a pro.
Ask him if he has read some books on planes, and Deepak smiles. "I have observed and learnt. I watch movies, I have a good imagination and I am smarter than these kids around," he says.
As the work draws to a close for the day and the workers stream out, they are mobbed by villagers keen to know the progress inside. "We feel like film stars in Alipur," says one of them, Seeta Devi. "If someone asks where we work, we proudly tell them we work inside an airplane. We are waiting for the day work finishes and we can bring our children to show them how an aeroplane looks."
Among those who can't wait for that day is seven-year-old Muskaan, who lives in the adjoining village. Awestruck, she rattles off a series of questions: "How do these huge planes not collide in the sky? What do they look like from the inside? How does one get in?"
For one question though, Muskaan does not need an answer anymore. "Agar yeh hawai jahaz itna bada hai, to suraj bhi itna hi bada hota hoga (If this plane is so big, the sun must be as huge)," she reasons. "Both look equally small in the sky."