The night was pitch dark. A street lamp shone dimly, creating pools of shadows along a tiny lane in Bareilly city. Sitting beneath the light was Imran. His nimble fingers were busy pasting thin sheets of coloured paper. He was making a kite.

Even though he could barely see, he didn’t fumble in his work. He could make these kites blindfolded now. At 10, he was an old hand at the craft, having started making kites when he was just six years old – the kites that Bareilly, in India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh, is so well known for.

At first, Imran used to help his mother crush the glass that is used to make the ‘manjha’ or the thread used to fly the kite. To make the manjha strong, finely ground glass is mixed with glue and applied on the thread by hand.

In the morning, along with seven other boys, Imran would apply the thick, sticky glue onto the manjha, which was tied across poles in a courtyard.

The process was gruelling and risky. Since the glass was not often ground finely, it would leave deep cuts on the palms of the boys. But often there was no medicine to stop the bleeding. The wounds were wrapped up in dirty bandages and left to heal. All these young employees carried scars.

But they couldn’t stop because that would mean losing a day’s wages.

The Kite-Maker [Illustration by Shiju George]
The Kite-Maker [Illustration by Shiju George]

Unlike the other boys, Imran’s work didn’t end by nightfall. Late at night, after dinner, when everyone else had retired for the day, Imran sat under the lamppost and made kites.

He didn’t mind the pain or the long, difficult hours. He knew his family depended on him and he couldn’t let them down. He had three younger brothers and a sister. His father suffered from tuberculosis and usually stayed home. His mother helped to crush glass but earned very little. It was not enough to feed the entire family.

Over the last few days, work had suddenly become hectic. The kite-maker or ‘Ustad’ wanted hundreds of kites ready before Independence Day (August 15) when the skies are shot with colour. It is a day when children and adults of all sizes fly kites.

The kites had to be sent to various cities and towns and there was little time to spare. The boys worked round the clock, often missing their meals.

But now the kites were ready — red, blue, green, purple, burgundy and bright yellow. The yard where the kites were kept looked like a garden and Imran felt proud of his work. Although he couldn’t afford to buy any, he knew many others like him would fly his kites and so, the sky would be his.

Sitting in a corner, his heart soared imagining the experience — little boys shouting gleefully as they cut each other’s kites, shouting ‘woh kaata’ (there! The kite is cut!). Their joy shone in his eyes.

A hand on his shoulder brought him back from his dream to reality. It was the Ustad. His wrinkled face had an understanding look as if he knew what Imran was thinking. He thrust some notes at Imran, his extra earnings for the work he had put in these last few days.

Overjoyed, Imran snatched the money and began to run across to his mother. It was time for celebrations. He knew his mother would have cooked special dishes for the family and he didn’t want to miss the feast.

Suddenly, the ustad called out his name. For a moment, Imran was afraid he would take the money back. Fearfully he looked behind his shoulder. The Ustad was holding out a kite — red, yellow, purple! Happy Independence Day, he said.

627 words | 6 minutes
Readability: Grade 4 (9-10 year old children)
Based on Flesch–Kincaid readability scores

Filed under: features
Tags: #money, #independence, #glass, #kites

You may also be interested in these:
Why were the 1904 Olympics Such a Disaster?
Jacques-Yves Cousteau
An Unpleasant Smell
My Robot Robbi
Who Sold the Eiffel Tower Twice?