Coincidences astonish us in real life – they have a wow! factor. But in fiction they tend to undermine a plot because they provide an easy way out for the writer. It’s better to use what one could call the ‘trap device,’ wherein you set your bait somewhere along the way, hoping the reader will take it without really noticing it, and then spring the trap later, so that he or she shakes his head and says, ‘oh heck I should have seen this coming!’ Red Kite Adventure has both.
Two coincidences actually: the first with the two protagonists, a middle-class boy called Arzaan and his look-alike rich friend Veer. This you can accept (and think of The Prince and the Pauper), because you assume it will play a vital role in the plot. The second, well, is a bit um… eyebrow-raising. But first the story:
Arzaan (an ardent kite-flyer) makes friends with Veer, and teaches him how to fly kites, even gifting him a small red one (which for safe keeping, Veer puts inside his shirt). Arzaan’s dada flies homing pigeons; the star in his collection being the regal Shahjahan, who has been taught to fly to and fro from Arzaan’s house to his nana’s house across town. The two boys go kite-flying and Veer is kidnapped by an unpleasant pair of hoodlums. He is taken to a crumbling run-down house at the edge of town (not far from Arzaan’s nana’s house) and imprisoned in a barsati. There are fields around the house, and hey presto, this also happens to be the happy feeding ground of Shahjahan and his flock… The birds turn up there one morning and Veer manages to call the pigeon and attach a hastily scribbled note to his leg and sends him off. The note is recovered by Arzaan’s dada and impetuous Arzaan (who’s been blaming himself for the whole kidnap drama) sneaks out to locate the place. He searches the area in vain, and then his attention is drawn to a red kite flying jerkily in the sky above. Now he knows where Veer is. He frees his friend (the kidnappers are away but due back with Veer’s meal any minute), and in a moment of slightly wobbly logic, changes places with Veer, asking his friend to hide and escape while he becomes the prisoner.
Veer gets home safely, but now Arzaan has to be rescued. The kidnappers have demanded a huge ransom, which is to be paid and deposited in a niche in the wall of an ancient fort (surely Pune’s Shaniwar Wada Darwaza under an alias!) in the middle of the night. The place is reputed to be haunted by a star-crossed princess and is usually deserted. The police turn up in force along with Veer, his father, and Arzaan’s worried dada, to pay the ransom. Arzaan is (for some reason) left to wander in the dungeons and catacombs of the fort, while the crooks recover the ransom. And now the hitherto slothful police spring their trap… certainly the most enjoyable part of the story and this works beautifully.
There are a few questions sharp-witted kids might ask: Veer had a terribly bumpy ride in the van while being kidnapped; he was bounced around and squashed any number of rotten tomatoes. Wouldn’t this have wrecked the fragile, tissue-paper kite he had kept under his shirt apart from causing it to crackle noisily and arouse suspicion? How did he manage to fly the kite out of a barred window? Then, of course, there’s the coincidence of Shahjahan landing up outside Veer’s cell window.
The story does move along at a brisk pace and is simply told; the characters are clearly delineated, and are nearly all male. The cover is very attractive, and at the end there are instructions on how to make your own red (or any other colour) kite. Pleasant summertime afternoon reading – to be followed by a kite-flying session of course!
By Ranjit Lal
Author: Leela Gour Broome
Subject Category: Contemporary/Fiction