Kite Flying aka Fighting in India
“The optimist pleasantly ponders how high his kite will fly; the pessimist woefully wonders how soon his kite will fall.” William Arthur Ward
It starts as the day dawns and continues into the night. The sounds of urgent fluttering fills the air. Hi-Fi CD players and speakers are carried up on rooftops where the latest dance tracks are played out. Loud yells of 'I Voh' meaning 'look its being cut' followed by a maddening thumping of steel sheets and water tanks follows. Please Prime Minister, shorten your Independence Day speech as today the country only has eyes for the paper kites fighting for supremacy in the sky.
Patang Baazi or kite flying is our passionate pastime. Originating in the holy books Vedas and Mahabharata where gods first flew them, they were also used to measure distance and recieve messages. Kites flown on festivals like Basant Panchami and Makar Sankranti are restricted to a few communities and geographical regions. However, as Independence day is a national secular holiday, people of all ages, religions and states can be seen purchasing a supply of 'patangs', 'manjha' and 'firki' ( kites, line and reels that hold the line) from makeshift stalls that open only during the season.
Kites are made of coloured 'kite' paper available in stationary shops. Geometrical patterns on it make it a stronger fighter. Some kites are made with plastic packaging material having the logos of well known tea and bread manufactureres. The more expensive ones are made of colored wrapping paper and have long tails. Oval shaped kites called Tukals and other multi-kites are flown by the experts in the Old Delhi area near Jama Masjid.
The most popular kite on Independence Day the is the 'tiranga' or tri colour kite with slogans such as 'mera bharat mahan' ( my india is great).
The line should be carefully measured and tied to the kite. Made of cotton woven in varied thicknesses, it may be coated with a mixture of glue and either ground glass or metal powder. Stuff like pigeon's droppings, egg, rice powder, sea surf and wax are added to make the string stronger. Some people use modern nylon line, which is supposed to be stronger but in reality gets cut just as easily.
There are no winners or losers as I know nothing about the person whose kite I'm fighting against. The goal is to cut the line of every kite you see. If my kite is cut by someone, I simply tie a new kite on and get on with it. It is easiest to get the kite up on a calm day with a slight breeze. Some folks do get them up on windy or still days but they become really difficult to control.
A kite flies just like an airplane which creates wind by its own speed. Throwing the kite in the air and yanking the string hard while letting out line causes currents of air to form that strike the face of the kite and force it upward. The best kites are made in Rampur and the best manjha comes from Bareilly. Though anyone can make a kite at home, the best fighters are carefully weighed and measured for great balance and strenght. The bamboo sticks that form the frame are cut like a bow and arrow. Kite paper or plastic is cut and the edges strengthened with cotton thread before being stuck. The tail is the only part which has paper on both sides, with pieces of bamboo for stability stuck between the two sheets.
Kite Fighting is best summed up by the lyrics of the song 'Dheel De' from the film 'Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam'
Ae Dheel de , Dheel de de re bhaiya
us patang ko dheel de , jaise hi masti main aayein
us patang ko kheech de
tez, tez , tez hai , manja apna tez hai
ungli kat sakti hai bapu , to patang kya cheez hai?
( give the line some slack, o brother and as the kite starts dancing upwards pull the line in hard...the line is really sharp, if your finger can get so easily cut then so can your kite )
As the kites fall towards the ground, kids carrying long poles run with their necks craned upwards to catch the falling kites. Minor scuffles break out among the looters. Most Indian s are looters at heart. If I see a falling kite floating past my balcony, I can't help but reach out my hand to grab it.
There is a dark side to the joy of kite flying. Many pedastrians or two wheeler drivers die or get injured due to sharp cuts on the neck and face from glass coated manjha. Kids face the danger of being electrocuted when they try to pull down kites attatched to metal coated manjha tangled on electricity poles. I have also heard of neighbours too engrossed in the sport falling from rooftops.
The high rate of accidents lead to the Delhi govenment banning kite flying. A fine of 100 bucks or jail was prescibed for the violators. As most kite flyers are minors who have no money, this law was not strictly enforced. The most I saw was cops rounding up a few kids who were flying kites near the main road and making them do a 100 situps while crossing their arms and holding their ears.
Dusk brings an even more enchanting sight. As the fireworks go off in the distance we start putting up lantern kites. We tie either a candle in a paper lantern or a bulb with a tiny battery to the line of a kite that is already up. The lantern silkily floats up as we release more thread. Some lines can have two or more lanterns, twinkling like stars as the wind plays with the flame. I was surprsed to hear that many folks in western countries who have South Asian neighbours believe the firefly kites to be UFO's.
August 15th is only a couple of weeks away. Looking through my window, I can see children practicing their kite flying skills. Last year was not really that bad but I can't help but fantasise about the bazillion kites I'll cut this year.
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