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Friday, November 05, 2010

The Guiltless Man

It was 1996. That evening had the look of despair. The sun looked red not the red you see when it’s before sunset. It was bright yellowish red. The clouds broke into pieces as if someone has broken red thin porcelain plates into pieces and threw them all over the sky. The sky was lit red with broken clouds. I looked up for a long time thinking how everyday is so different from the rest of the day.  

At a far distance I saw the kites flying. I was never a good kite flier; it was something that I could never master with my hands. I had heard lots of stories about my brother and cousins, especially my brother who is a great kite flier. I used to think that I could never be so that good. I was not very proud of that

That particular day Jimmy, my next door friend told me that today we should fly a kite.
The way he said

Saurabh, chal ‘patang’ utate hai! Achaa mausam hai. Kya bolta hai
(Saurabh, Lets fly ‘kites’ ! Amazing Weather, don’t you think)
Patang” ! I had the Pepsi Bat and a shower ball (Cosco). I had cricket in my mind. I frowned and shook my head to say no.

There was something about Kites.
There was like a search engine in my mind, the moment I heard kite, I remember the torment I go through, the pain of not being good in something, the agony that makes me want to die, the hate of being in a competition where I could be no good. I had accepted that long time back then that I wouldn’t waste time flying kites for there is something that is not meant for me. I felt guilty of being not good, the guilt which made me sick in my stomach, the guilt to myself which makes me ask only 1 question Why can’t I ?

Jimmy was a little persuasive. I don’t like people who try to persuade. I hated it.
Finally I brought 6 kites that day from ‘Suvidha’ the general store in my gali. I had the look of an unconfident man, I was sure that I will crash or tear apart the first few kites. Jimmy said he knows how to string. I said no, let’s go to dadaji, my grandfather, one thing I knew that when he used to say that he knows something, I was without doubt that he would be the best, after all it had at least 20-30 years of experience behind it. I got the ‘lape’ (a thing made from wheat flour used to stick something) Jimmy made a tail for it to balance. I frowned again.

My dadaji tied the knots in perfection. I remember his concentration, the way his hands used to move and his eyes as if it was his kite. He was 85.

I took the ‘latai’ (Latai: The spool which has the coiled string) which we also bought the same day ran 2 steps at a time to go on the rooftop. My house has a nice rooftop. The mango tree reached up to rooftop with branches falling on the railing. In the season you can pluck mangoes and one can see everything from there in my colony, To be honest it used to make the skyline of my colony in those days.  No kidding!

It was breezy but still it was difficult even for Jimmy who claimed, had flown enough kites. Jimmy was one of my best friends at the age of 10. He was an excellent cricketer I remember bowling to him from 9am-5pm continuously missing lunch in a challenge to get him out and he never got out. Either that makes me a sucky bowler or him an excellent batsman, but still I would like to believe he was very good. He and I used to celebrate over every great cover drive of Sachin. That India-Pakistan match of 1996 World Cup which India won, I still remember we fired Crackers at 12am, and especially the Rockets keeping them in a bottle and holding the bottle in our hands pointing the rockets in other people’s houses.

The first kite which we made with a long tail dove like Jet in the mango trees and it tore apart. I cut the string to connect to the other kite. Well, it never even left the roof. The third kite tore because Jimmy’s hand was on kite while I pulled the kite with the string. The fourth kite was the red kite. I liked the kite. I wanted to fly it. I had a feeling that I would be able to fly it. It showed a color of achievement.

I wanted to fly the kite without any tail, somehow it was meant to be tougher and if I was attempting something which can make my bones chill, I sure knew I won’t take any easy way. The toughest way was my way to overcome the fear and the agony and especially the guilt.

I tried with the ‘red patang’; for me it suggested, lucky success probably. I told him to give a jerk from his chest as I tried to loose free and pull hard for it to rise.

Dheel (let loose) de na jimmy’
‘De raha huin’
“Kheech kheech” Jimmy yelled.

It was flying at least about 20 m away. It was flying. I was beginning to be happy. Suddenly as if the kite entered a new zone, It went soaring downwards...

Kheech kheech..jaldi jaldi.

I panicked, my attempt is again going futile. I am not meant for this. I pulled it as quickly as possible but the speed at which the patang went inside the roof, and invisible string lying dead on the poles, the mango tree, on electric lines, I couldn’t have pulled any quickly. It was stuck, I pulled it hard that I think I heard the ripping sound of the patang. It just came with the Criss Cross thin Bamboo sticks, and the redness was gone. All left was the sticks, It looked Pale Yellow.

The anxiety attack came again. I was beginning to feel restless. I had to get it out. I had to take care of it else I am going to explode.
I came downstairs furious and painfully sad with myself. I went to shoe rack kicked the wooden shoe rack so hard with my naked feet that I didn’t care if my nail broke but inside I prayed that it doesn’t. As soon as I hit the wood, sharp pain shot through my legs.

My eyes got red the thin veins in my white ball started expanding and I could feel a drop of water from the corner of the eye. I went to the basin; I could even see the small tiny hole producing the glob of tear. It was coming because of the pain. It was involuntary, I wasn’t crying, I was furious over my failure once again. I opened the water with the maximum speed. MAXIMUM SPEED. The water splashed on my shirt  and leg. My leg was dirty with dust, The water showed my brown skin underneath. I looked in the mirror trying to control my anger, my failure. I washed my eyes and told myself, “kya kar raha hai.. chodd na”.

As I came downstairs, I felt calm. Nobody had any idea what I just went through. Dad was doing some paperwork. Didi was in kitchen with my mother, Bhaiya was watching TV.

I went up to Dadaji’s room told him that I am not able to fly.
He looked up unruffled and told me, “ Phir se koshish karo” I looked at him especially his blue eyes which can make u look at him for long time, thinking how weird is that he has blue eyes. Huh, whatever.  It was very different and he was unflustered with things that didn’t matter to him. My failure didn’t matter to him but somehow my efforts did.

I went into the kitchen where Mom gave me some thing to eat and I said “NO”. It wasn’t a no which could have posed a question. I took some water and ran upstairs.

As soon as I reached upstairs I found Jimmy locking the rooftop door telling me it’s almost 7.  It wasn’t dark. It was just late. I told him “You go! I will fly”

I went outside took the last Purple Patang and came downstairs to get my knot made from dadaji. He made it with the same precision mutely, only a little longer and finally disclosed a few tricks regarding the ratio of lengths of the front and back for me to understand the concept.

I went up. I made the knots with the string connected to ‘latai’. I wiped my mouth with back of my palm and tried again, very cautiously. It fell. I tried again. It fell. I ran with the whole kite and string from one end of roof to the other end. It didn’t fly.

Finally to give more jerk, I went to the railing and let the kite fall on one side in the air and kept the latai on the rooftop ground. I held the string with my hand. The kite was now about 10 feet below roof hanging loose and I pulled with the strongest jerk I could give. The string nicked the skin on my fingers. It hurt but I managed to fly a little bit. I kicked the latai on the ground for it to loose more string like a wool ball. I let the kite go very slowly and held it at my grasp. I used to give jerks to see which direction the wind is trying to guide. I felt the string running through my fingers like a pulley, I could feel the scratch deepen and lines it made. But I didn’t look down, just at the kite. I had to fly.

After about 40 min, without my realization I found the kite almost 200 m away. The purple kite against the red sun, It looked Maroonish. I took the latai and I kept giving dheel.

It was flying in sunset. I put the latai in one of the holes and let the kite fly all by itself.
I didn’t care if anybody is there to see me doing it, I didn’t care if after today I would never be able to fly kite ever again, I didn’t care if anybody told me that I can fly better than you.

At about 8 pm, It was about to sunset, I had not realized but I have almost sent my kite about 1 km away. I could see the kite just above the Gas Station or the last Grey House visible to me. I played with the latai, I played with the string. I even danced on the railing with the latai in my hand as if it was the only thing that mattered to me. I clapped my hands so hard that it echoed on the roof.

I was thinking to pull it down when I saw my brother coming from the door; He was eating something on the plate. Followed by him were my mother and my sister. They always thought I flew kites.

Didi said “ Kitna door chala gaya hai..”
Mom nodded in agreement.
They had no idea the happiness I had in my mind.

My brother took the latai from my hand and started flying; I took his plate with bread rolls and started eating. It was his but I wanted to eat from the same plate. He kept flying for a while and giving more and more ‘dheel’.

Finally the string ended. All what was left was the smallest knot on one of the Bamboo sticks of the latai.

He came back to talk to me if we should pull it back when I heard the SNAP.
I knew what it was. The string broke from the latai. It was empty.

From what I saw from the faces of my family was a momentary awe, my sister was looking at bhaiya while he was flying. She responded trying to catch the string in the air. It was funny.  I heard my brother whispering “Shucks”.

There was a momentary weirdness and everyone looked at me, I was so happy that I couldn’t care. I just smiled and said

Kya hua?”

Bhaiya said “String toot gaya (The string broke), as if was it was his fault” He felt guilty for something. I could see his lips purse, I wondered  if anyone can be ‘the guiltless man’ because I sure knew it was the guilt that I wanted most for him to be free of. I smiled.

I told him in the most cheerful voice “ I am sure that the kite would not fall before it will reach near River Ganges. I think I saw my brother’s face explode with jollity only for a second  before he came patted on my back and started eating from the same plate as we watched the ‘purple patang’ go away.

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