Old Market Road, a narrow lane in Bengaluru’s Shivaji Nagar, makes for a kaleidoscope of colours. Bustling with activity the road has numerous traders dealing out of tiny shops.
Shop No 84 is a compact space with kites of various colours hanging out on display. Seated on a wooden stool with a 2x2 ft kite in his hand, is 36-year old Shabir Hussein, the owner of Barkath Kite Centre, Bengaluru’s first kite makers and vendors.
“In the early 1960s, my father, Murkhuda Khan, went to Bombay to look for a job as there were nine of us siblings he had to support. After struggling for three months he came up on a kite dealer in Dongri named Haji Shaban. Shaban, who was also in need of an assistant, hired my father. It was under his apprenticeship that he learnt the art of making kites,” Shabir recalls.
Murkhuda Khan, returned home to Kunigal in Tumkur from Bombay. The family then moved to RT Nagar in Bengaluru and in 1965, Murkhuda opened the kite centre.
“My father opened the store and named it after my sister Barkath as she is the youngest. At that time, no one in the city, at least in this area, knew anything about flying kites. There were a few homes in this area and there were not many vendors on this road. He taught the people in this area how to fly kites and it took him around 10 years to stabilise the business. He never gave up on the struggle. He was extremely passionate about making and flying kites,” Shabir said.
With meagre earnings, Shabir and his siblings did not have the opportunity to pursue college. Shabir and his siblings live together with their families in RT Nagar and the entire family is involved in the business now.
“I don't regret not being able to pursue an education. I flew my first kite when I was six years old. My father had made me a green coloured kite. It was 2x2 ft in size. We went up on the roof of my house and he instructed me on how to position my kite and also my posture. He also briefed me about how to tackle it based on the force of the wind. My kite went up high on my first attempt. The feeling was exhilarating and every time I have flown a kite after that, the feeling remains. That’s when I fell in love with kites and I knew I wanted to be like my father,” Shabir said.
Shabir made his first kite when he was 11 years old and has not stopped since. “It was a 2x2 ft purple coloured kite. I had seen my father do it so quickly and efficiently. It took me almost two hours to make one, while my father finished usually within 15 minutes. But I was really proud with the end result,” he adds.
The kites are made and sold only from August to January. When the store was opened, Murkhuda dealt only in Bangalore. Currently, Shabir sells his kites to dealers in Tamil Nadu and Kerala as well.
“In Karnataka, we sell kites to dealers in Hassan, Shivamogga, Davangere and Mysuru, apart from Bengaluru city. The note ban has hit the business very badly and it has gone down by 80%. I sell around 20,000 kites per month and they are priced between Re 1 and Rs 25. After the note ban, I have barely sold 5,000-6,000 kites. During Sankranti, last year, I sold 25,000 kites in 15 days, now I have not yet hit 2,000,” Shabir said.
Shabir says that the market for kites has dwindled over the years and he blames it on video games.
“Between 2000 and 2005, the kite sales had shot up but once video games became popular, the number of children who would buy kites went down and has gradually been coming down since then,” he said.
Shabir has however, not lost hope. He taught his son, Hanif Hussein to fly kites when he was 10-years-old. Hanif has also won the gold medal in two state level kite flying competitions held in Tumkur and Hassan and the silver in the Mysuru competition.
“My son is extremely passionate about kites. There are times when I feel like the art of making kites is going to vanish but his passion for making and flying kites makes me want to rethink that. If he is better educated, maybe he can think of better ways to keep the business going. There is always hope there,” Shabir said.