I knew that he lived in the slums lining the railway tracks in the metropolis of Mumbai, a small dingy room. It was a room with no paints, no electricity, no proper ventilation or the roof. It was a nameless, faceless existence.
I had met him for the first time when I was barely 5 years old. It had been height of the kite-flying season and I had accompanied my elder brother to buy the kite. He had gone to meet Sitaram who made the best kites in our neighbourhood, the kites that were strong, sturdy and beautiful. My brother had wanted a sturdy kite as he wanted to enter the local kite flying competition. So the kite maker Sitaram had given him a sturdy, strong kite, but what impressed me, an innocent kid, were its intricate, colourful patterns, more like a collage. Although my brother lost the competition, the kite stayed on in my memory, as did the kite maker.
Then for couple of years, I would always accompany my brother to the kite maker. I was always delighted to see those kites, beautiful and rich, that had been so painstakingly done. The kites lined the walls of Sitarams room; the yellow glow of the oil lamp gave a golden shade to the original colors of the kites. They were priceless creations of art for me, so much beyond the values that people fixed and paid for it. I found a feeling of joy, of satisfaction in those kites.
As I grew older I tried to find more about the kite maker. I found that he had 2 sons and a daughter, his wife had died of pneumonia, he was in his late 40s, his daughter had been married when she was 12 years old, also his sons had got married and had moved away from the life in the slums, but Sitaram had stayed on in that slum, in his confinement. Even though his kites, artistic and beautiful, found a place in the interiors of palaces and hotels and bungalows of the rich and famous, his kites also flew high into the sky. The kites of kite maker were for everyone, the rich, and the poor.
And the kite maker went on with his work, the work of making more kites, beautiful, colourful, heart-warming as before, as his fame and his glory went on increasing. Mindless of that, he lived all alone in that clumsy room and went on with his art.
I am 30 years old now. It has been 25 years since I had meet Sitaram for the very first time. His kites had always questioned me, probed me to know more about them, their maker. Now I decided to know exactly what I wanted to know.
It was mid of February, the height of kite flying season in India. It was 6 o’clock in the morning, and that unearthly hour had me going in search of the kite maker. I knew I had to meet him.
The walk to his room had taken me through many filthy places, myriad of emotions filled me, I wanted to turn back and run back to the comforts of my house, but I knew that there was no turning back. Even at such an early hour, I found Sitaram busy with his work of kite making. I stood at the window, lost in the process of kite making as Sitaram went on dedicatedly with his work. Then as if sensing someone, he looked up,
I was embarrassed to be caught spying, but on seeing me he invited me in with a toothless, genuine smile.
"Beta, my child, how come you are here at such an early hour?" he said, pointing at the only chair in the room for me to sit. Even that chair appeared fragile and worn-out.
"Baba, I wanted to know why do you make many beautiful kites, yet sell only few for higher prices to the rich people and sell the rest at lower prices to the kids." Sitaram seemed amused at my question; maybe no one ever asked him this kind of questions.
"Beta, I find a part of myself in my kites. My kites are my creations, my love, they are a thing that I have lovingly created with pain and hard work. They are my expressions of love, of pain, of joy."
"Then, Baba, why do you sell some kites for such high price?"
For a moment there was silence, then there were tears in his old eyes.
"Because I do need money to feed myself, cloth myself. And to buy things to create more kites. But my happiness lies in those kites that fly high into the sky and they are the real me. I find myself in my loss. I can’t go out, but my kites do that for me. They break free for me; they fly away with freedom, with no restrictions. They take with them my heart and my soul. I would be nothing without them my kites."
"And the beauty, the intricacy, what does it symbolise."
"Beta, it symbolises the beauties of life, those that I can afford and those that I can’t have, they are all there in my kites, my feelings, my joys. But now the cataract in my left eye is diminishing my eyesight, but still I know as long as I live my kites will be there, for they are my only hope, my kites and me with them, together we fly, we soar up, up in the sky. And so in its joy, the joy of flying, I lose myself, my pains, my sorrows."
I looked at his misty eyes, then at his legs that had been paralyzed since childhood due to polio. I thought, maybe, I understood.
YOU COULD BE NEXT
Enter your bold, brilliant and brief fiction in the 9th-Annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Send us your best in 1,500 words or fewer. The deadline is Dec. 1, 2008, and the entry fee is $12 a story. Mail your entry to: Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition, 700 East State St., Iola, WI 54990. For more information on the contest or to enter online, visit writersdigest.com/competitions.
THE SHORT LIST
The 8th-Annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition attracted 6,805 entries. Judges Gina Ochsner, Debby Mayne and J.A. Konrath helped narrow the field. Finalists were judged and ranked by Writer’s Digest editors. Click below to read the top five stories (coming soon).
1 Robert Brandt, Saginaw, Mich., "The Procedure"
2 Marsha Brantley, Cleveland, Tenn., “Dirty Little Secrets”
3 Kirk Barrett, Evanston, Ill., “Sarajevo Roses”
4 Kara Graham, Lethbridge, AB, Canada, “The Last Dance”
5 Rekha Rao, Pisa, Italy, “Kite Maker”
6 Richard Holeton, Montara, Calif., “Year of the Pig”
7 Carl L. Williams, Houston, Texas, “One Last Taste Of Home”
8 Holly Current, Cincinnati, Ohio, “Burnt Offering”
9 Marsha Brubaker, Warren, Mich., “Jerry”
10 Ryan Edel, Raleigh, N.C., “My Brother the Hero”
11 Quirino Valdez Garza, Jr., Pearland, Texas, “Coyote: A Family’s Journey”
12 Hannah Rogers, Milford, Ohio, “Batman Band-Aids”
13 Alicia Stankay, Ambridge, Pa., “Reflections”
14 Grant Flint, Richmond, Calif., “Aunt Effie and the Great Depression”
15 Stephen Woodfin, Kilgore, Texas, “He Ain’t Leaving; He’s Gone”
16 Richard Goyette, Jasper, Ga., “The Dragon Hunter”
17 Rebecca LuElla Miller, Whittier, Calif., “Haj”
18 Johnny Skrabala, Richmond, Va., “Typecasting”
19 Samantha Johnson, Mililani, Hawaii, “The Child”
20 Lisa Eisenbrey, Austin, Texas, “Bob”
21 Robert Norton, Portland, Ore., “Marie’s Lovely Picture”
22 Kate Simonsen, Richmond, Va., “Employee Benefits”
23 Rebecca Benston, Springfield, Ohio, “The End”
24 Robert Couture, Boston, Mass., “To Swing”
25 William Long, State College, Pa., “On The Night That John James Shot The Dog”
NOTE: To receive a book containing the full manuscripts of the top 25 winners, send a check or money order for $6 to the 8th-Annual WD Short Short Story Collection, 700 East State St., Iola, WI 54990.