And the Kite flew, with the strings holding it tight…

By Najiya O,,

For those who wonder what is there in ‘Kite Strings’, Basheer has got the perfect answer:

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“You have to … you’ve got to feel the power of putting a kite in the sky and, and… letting it fly without letting it go out of your control.”

The logic seemed a bit warped to me. “You want to let it fly, and you still want to hold it in your hands?”

Though the protagonist Mehnaz found it a bit confusing when Basheer said it then as she was only a small child, she got to know the power of the kite-strings that let her fly but still controlling her always as she grew older. And thus develops the ‘Kite Strings’, the debut venture of Andaleeb Wajid.

The story takes place in Bangalore with frequent trips to Vellore. It is about Mehnaz and her immediate family – her fights with her mother, affectionate relationship with her father, her young brother, cousin Rehana, etc. It is basically a family story with a cute romance which blooms but fails to meet the end.

The autobiographical element in the novel can be noted in the character of Mehnaz, the life in Bangalore and the frequent visits to Vellore. Andaleeb Wajid lives in Bangalore, though basically from Vellore in Tamil Nadu. “Mehnaz’s character was more or less influenced by myself. She reacts to situations as I would. Apart from that everything is fiction,” said Ms Wajid to TCN.

Being a Muslim and living among Muslims, Ms Wajid wrote the story of an educated Muslim girl. However, the reviews she got identifying their own lives with that of the life situations and responses of Mehnaz to them were not all from Muslims. “Young educated women everywhere in India particularly, are facing something of a similar sort, although on different levels”, said Ms Wajid. “Most women aren’t free to choose their lives. They always have to follow the diktat of their elders whether or not they like it… Every woman’s situation is unique and it’s a combination of many things which help a woman to choose her life.”

Born in family that gave much importance to stories, Andaleeb began writing at a very young age itself. She says, “I don’t know how I started writing. I have been just doing it for a long time.” Her stories were published in children’s magazines. But when it came to her first book, the writer encountered problems after writing it. The novel was completed in 2005, but it took another five years to get it published. Wajid says, “No one was interested in it and I got rejected at least 13 times before Cedar Books saw the potential in it. I’m just glad it got published whenever it did. I had begun to think that it would never get published but I’m glad I didn’t stop trying.”

Herself becoming a kite, having been put into the air with good education and independent thoughts, but at the same time pulling the strings from the land of family, customs and traditions, Mehnaz’s life goes on. Life moves on with several characters, all of whom influence her in one way or the other even if they appear in the novel for a very short time. Let’s see the example of Basheer who leaves the family after his mother’s death, but the theory of flying kites that he spelled out has a great influence on Mehnaz who experience the life of a kite in her own self.

The strings control the kite which loves to fly high and free, the kite may feel restrained, but the bigger fact is that the kite has no existence in the sky but for the strings. Once the string is broken, the kite falls back to the ground. And in kite flying, the breaking of string is seen as failure which is met with ill-fame and shame.

Mehnaz has a beautiful and affectionate relationship with her Abbu (father). He is the one who she can count on when she has any feuds with her mother. He takes pride in the English and modern education of his daughter. Abbu is a typical father who loves and cares for his family. He is so considerate in the novel that even Mehnaz feels uncomfortable when he sees her as a mature person and asks her opinions in matters such as the marriage of their maid-servant Aasia.

The protagonist’s relations with her mother is rather uneasy, though the underlying principle behind their feuds is that each wants the other to understand, love and care for her more – the same mother-teenage daughter relationship everywhere. That is why Mehnaz hates Aasia, the maid-servant, because she is always with the mother and obeys whatever she says, and quite naturally mother likes her too. Ammi is a strong woman, but afraid of the consequences of not following the social customs and traditions. Mehnaz is amazed on finding out the family story of her mother, who had kept it away from her children. Mehnaz’s relation with the maid-servant Aasia also is somewhat related to her relation to Ammi. Mehnaz initially likes the arrival of Aasia to the house as she thought she would be her companion to play and have fun around. But soon she found that Aasia was there to help her mother and to take care of her younger brother Mateen. The fondness she felt initially turned into hatred when she realized that Ammi as well as Mateen liked Aasia a lot. Mehnaz, the teenager, was afraid if she would lose her position in the house because of Aasia, if she would lose Ammi’s love.

The kite-flying of her cousin Basheer took Mehnaz to the terrace of the house in Vellore. And the same terrace witnesses the blooming of a small and cute love-story. Imtiaz was a good friend that Mehnaz met on the terrace and soon it developed into romance – romance on the terrace. In the novel, Mehnaz sympathises for the fate of Zohra Phuppu (aunt), but resolves that she wouldn’t wither away like Phuppu if something of the sort happened to her. And she proves it in her own case when the relationship with Imtiaz ends in a phone call in Bangalore.

The ragging in Mateen’s school comes as a sort of a test for Mehnaz on who her family puts high expectations. Mehnaz comes forward to report the ragging and bring the culprits to justice. But in the course, she loses Imtiaz. However, the incident also helps Mehnaz better her ties with her brother and mother.

The problems between Mehnaz’s father and his brother have a very big effect on Mehnaz and both families. Her uncle’s daughter Rehana was Mehnaz’s best friend since childhood and the sudden rivalry put the two families apart. Her trips to Vellore after the split were not as happy as earlier, without her cousin Rehana and her family. ‘What you enjoyed most seemed to have changed so much when the people you enjoyed it were not there.’ (Page 40) As the saying goes ‘Calamities bring people together,’ the two families are brought together after years by the illness of Rehana’s mother.

And among all this her Anglo-Indian tutor Mrs Dahlia is a great blessing for Mehnaz. Mehnaz likes her as she opened a new window to the world. They enjoyed their time together so much that despite the mother’s dislike, Mehnaz made it a habit to visit her often even after she joined college and was in no need for tuitions. Mrs Dahlia opened the vast world of literature and worldly experiences before Mehnaz who loved books.

Mehnaz is a person who loves to do something worthwhile in her life. She sees the normal chores of women in houses as not a big deal and wants to do something different. This also is a reason for her break-up with Imtiaz who forces her for marriage. However, she did not know what she could do as she could not go out and work like her friends in college because of the constraints from her family. But the same friends discover the beauty of her language though by peeping into her personal diary. At the end of the novel, Mehnaz is again on the terrace in Vellore which has witnessed her growing up and several important happenings in her life and she decides to take up writing seriously.

And thus, Andaleeb Wajid wrote, despite all the strings that pulled her back such as running a family as the mother of two, working, questions from all around etc. And the result came out as ‘Kite Strings’ – indeed a beautiful piece that one can go on reading and at the end, realize that life goes on.