The Kitemaker | Sunday Observer

The Kitemaker

20 September, 2020

The Kitemaker is a short story collection by British – Indian author, Rukin Bond, published in 2011. There are eleven acclaimed short stories in this collection, some of which are included in his earlier story collections too. The key characteristic of the stories is his simple yet compelling art of narrating the details of the surroundings which we usually miss out.

The book starts with one of his autobiographical stories, Life with Father. It describes a moving relationship between a father and son, who was first abandoned by his mother because of her separation from the husband, and then was left alone by his father’s sudden death. The author describes this sad moment as follows:

“Not all memories are dream-like and idyllic. I witnessed my parent’s quarrels from an early age, and later when they resulted in my mother taking off for unknown destinations (unknown to me), I would feel helpless and insecure. My father’s hand was always there, and I held it firmly until it was wrenched away by the angel of death…..” (Page 3)

It is evident that Ruskin Bond has a rare talent of describing events in a heartbreaking tone. He could do it because it is his own life story. Ruskin’s mother separated from his father when he was seven, and then he was looked after by his father alone. The story describes this close relationship with his father. At first, father was an English tutor for rich Indian families during which he spent a fairly happy life with him in various rented houses. However, when the Second World War broke out, that life started to collapse because his father joined the military service:

“The war wasn’t going too well for England in 1944, and it wasn’t going well for me either, for I found myself interned in a convent school in the hill station Mussorie.” (Page 6-7)

In the end father died of malaria bout in Burma where he served as a soldier in the Royal Air Force and Ruskin was left alone at his hostel in the school. The other characteristic of Ruskin’s writing is that he could convey the emotion of unexpressed sadness. In this story, he recalls various events and situations in which he and his father worked together, but beneath all this is that constant reminder to us that his father is no more. And the other thing is that he always relies on descriptions of nature when he needs to highlight a particular moment. That first story, Life withFather ends as follows:

“Dehra was a green and leafy place. The houses were separated by hedges, not walls, and the residential areas were criss-crossed by little lanes bordered by hibiscus or oleander shrubs.

“We were soon back in Delhi.

“My parent’s separation was final and it was to be almost two years before I saw my mother again.” (Page 15)

Through his poetic descriptions of nature, he would intensify the emotional tumult of the characters.

The second story of this collection, My Father’s Last Letter is also an autobiographical one which yet again presents a father – son relationship. When the story begins, the war was going on and the father stayed at Granny’s home or his own home in Culcutta. The son was boarded at school in Simla. Though the father couldn’t come to see him, he wrote regularly to his son. In this story the author focuses on a particular letter which his father sent to him two weeks before his death from malaria. The letter starts like this:

“My dear Ruskin,

“Thank you very much for your letter received a few days ago. I was pleased to hear that you were quite well and learning hard. We are all quite O.K. here, but I am still not strong enough to go to work after the recent attack of malaria I had. I was in hospital for long time and that is the reason why you did not get a letter from me for several weeks.”In this correspondence we are told how close that father - son relationship was. But the sad thing about it is that his father is no more. The reader resonates with that sad voice when he reads the letter in the story. The short story ends with another sorrowful incident. When he was at the school, he had to keep his father’s letters in charge of Priestley, his violin teacher in school. But after the father’s death, when he finally asked about his letters from Priestley, he said “What letters?” In this way all of his father’s letters were lost except this last letter. The story ends with this note:

“I never saw those letters again. And I’m glad to say I did not see Mr. Priestley again. All he’d given me was a lifelong aversion to violin players.”

This story poignantly narrates how children become victimize due to exclusion from the affairs of adults.

Love is a sad song and Time stops at Shamli are two romantic stories in this collection and it is evident that they are the author’s personal experiences. However, they are very moving, artistic and interesting love stories.

In the story of The Kitemaker we have the theme of tradition, mortality, loneliness, happiness, independence, kindness, pride and change. The story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Bond may be exploring the theme of tradition. Mehmood, protagonist of the story once made his living from making kites. As he grew older there were less people looking for kites and the long serving tradition that had made Mehmood a living eventually died out. However, it is interesting that Mehmood still perseveres with making kites even if it is only to please his grandson, Ali. What is also interesting about the story is the fact that Bond seems to be highlighting the fact that the landscape has changed. This may be important symbolically because Bond may be suggesting that just as the landscape has changed or the city has grown so too has Mehmood.

Apart from those visionary insights, this short story collection is filled with characteristic warmth, gentle humour and keen observations on daily life. In the end, Ruskin Bond brings together some of the finest short fiction stories he has written.