Daddy was a great kite flyer. His passion for kites was so strong that to tell him to fly a readymade kite was akin to blasphemy. So as soon as #kite-flying #season would come around, there would be rolls of ‘manjha’ string, a couple of ‘phirkis,’ supple bamboo sticks, which he’d cut finer to make the frame of the kite. There’d be sheets of glazed paper (or china paper as some would call it because Chinese lanterns were made out of it) lying around the house. He would ask Mummy to make a pot of ‘layee’ (an adhesive made by cooking refined flour). Daddy didn’t believe in using the prepared glue available in the markets!
There would also be pieces of glass, which he would very strictly forbid us from even looking at forget touching it! These had to be ground and powdered and then, the manjha would be coated with it, making it lethal, literally.
Now, the entire process of making kites for the season would begin. What made it so exciting was the involvement of imagination… no ordinary kites for us.
“Aur phir, Chakotri,” he’d address me, smiling delightedly, “what kind of kite do you want?”
The question would go to my brother too.
But my brother was more thoughtful about the kind of flying object he desired. Obviously, he was taking in other “technical aspects.” I’d let my imagination fly. I think I must have made some very impossible demands, in fact, I’m sure I did, but none would be brushed aside with a flat, “NO.” Daddy would work around my original design, changing it a bit here a bit there, giving me reasons how it would be a better kite with a little this here and little that taken off there. So he’d keep me happy believing that the design was mine and also produce something that would take off. Something that was nothing like what I had asked for!
The manjha was the most difficult part. I can’t recall the exact process but I know the glass would be powdered very fine. A difficult task and the male domestic help would be requisitioned for this, much to Mummy’s annoyance, because the only male help was also her kitchen helping hand. To get back to the manjha, the string would be dipped in some sort of gooey stuff and drawn through the powdered glass. This needed space so it was done in the backyard which was very big.
But, I’m drawing out this narration too much. Let’s come to the day we became the rulers of the sky.
So it goes that one day, my brother and I decided that our ‘pecha’ wins were not very impressive. Our kite flying sorties weren’t notching up as many kills as we wanted. So I went to Daddy with our laments. He listened patiently. If I had his ears, initially, now I had his total commitment to helping us to win the ‘pecha’ war!
“Abhi dikhate hain unko patang kya cheez hai. Arre, I’ll make you such a kite that they’ll run with their tail between their legs.”
Thus was fashioned a kite that was taller than I was, so it would’ve been over four feet. A lot of thought went into the dynamics of this monster. It looked like one to me. Then the question of manjha was raised by my brother and Daddy agreed that we needed string much stronger but not too heavy either.
Now don’t ask me what he did to get the right manjha, I don’t remember anything about that. I wasn’t included in the procuring or making of the string that would fly our champion kite. All I can recall with absolute detail and delight, even to this day, is the pride I felt as the kite soared majestically into the sky.
The first day we took it for its maiden launch, Daddy had in true ‘Daddy’ nature made it a picnic. He got Mummy to pack the picnic basket. In those days, I doubt if there was any home without the #wicker #picnic #basket. Our destination, a twelve-minute walk from home, was a small hillock. My job was to lug the picnic basket which, given my diminutive size, was big for me. Not one to complain, I managed to keep it an inch above the ground.
And then, I waited with bated breath for the take-off.
It climbed against the wind like a dream.
As it made its way upward and onward, Daddy brought it into combat with every kite in ‘pechable’ distance. Annihilation was swift and sure. Our granddaddy of all kites dominated the blue expanse as it held steady, a tiny speck in the sky.
By the third day, word had spread and the regulars who flew their kites in this spot vanished, kite et al, as soon as they saw us coming up the hill with our giant. After the initial egoistic boost, I felt a bit deflated as we watched our kite do a drunken swoon as it sailed unchallenged and uninterrupted. It wasn’t fun.
We had taken away the fun from the entire activity. What should have been pure enjoyment and fun and games had turned into a battle of supremacy. Of course, I couldn’t elucidate all this, but I did comment on it.
“They’ve all gone away,” I said quietly. They’re scared of us,” I added with undisguised disappointment.
“Yes, daud gaye sare. Your kite is the king.”
Daddy had failed to notice that I wasn’t quite pleased with this dubious entitlement.
“But it’s not so nice without any other kites. It was so much fun on the first day,” I insisted in an effort to make my point. No one sensed how I was feeling. They were too elated with the momentary thrill of being the rulers of that small patch of blue.
I had learned a lesson.
Later on, the realization would imprint on my mind that there is a fine line between healthy and unhealthy competition, and we must remember never to cross this boundary. Ever since then, I have gauged the level of competition to set my standards and then I’ve competed with myself alone. In the bargain, if I outdid the others, it would be a bonus for me! If I didn’t, I knew I had to work on the weak areas and up my efforts. It was always a win-win situation. I either added to my wins and grew or I added to my learning experience and grew! I kept moving forward.
A bit of information about the practice of Kite Flying in India.
1. People fly kites on Makar Sankranti. This festival is dedicated to the Sun God, Surya and is celebrated by Hindus.
It is also celebrated to welcome Spring. Among many traditions and practices involved in the celebrations, flying kites is one of them. It is not clear why kite flying has become an integral part of the festivities.
2.Political…The first time kites were used in a protest was during the ‘GO BACK SIMON’ protest against the Simon Commission in 1927. The words ‘Go Back Simon’ were written on the kites which were then flown in the sky by the protestors. This could have possibly led to the practice of flying kites on 15th August, Independence Day, every year.
Kites are flown at Red Fort in old Delhi. This is where Jawaharlal Nehru hoisted the Indian national flag of Independent India, in 1947, and the tradition continues even today to commemorate it.
Lately, this tradition of kite flying on Independence Day, in India, has begun at India Gate too. Perhaps the activity has more to do with enjoying the holiday and adding fun to being outdoors. Many kites flown on the 15th of August, these days, do evoke the feeling of patriotism as they carry the tricolor of the national flag.
Since kite flying takes place as serious challenges too, apart from fun and frolic, PETA has been active in asking people to use safer string for their kites. I do agree with the use of a safe cotton string instead of the manjha.
PETA’s request: PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has put in a serious request for kite flyers to stop using manjha which has finely crushed glass over it. this is dangerous for birds when they get entangled in the bit of manjha that are scattered when a kite gets cut and falls out of range or reach of the retrievers. It could even injure people seriously, especially unwary especially children.
Manjha…the twine used to fly the kite. In those days it was reinforced string.
Phirki…a kind of spool on which the twine is wrapped. It has elongated handles on either side which rest between the thumbs and forefingers.
Aur phir Chakotri…What now Chakotri (Chakotri was one of the nicknames he used for me)
Pecha…the act of engaging and cutting free an opponent’s kite
Abhi dikhate hain unko patang kya cheez hoti hai…We’ll show them right now what a kite really is.
Daud gaye sare…They’ve all run away.
Pechable…a combination of ‘pecha’ and ‘able’. Coined by me to mean within striking distance in kite combat!