Kites. Beautiful. Colourful. In an array of shapes. May be because I have seen them only on very few occasions, I have been as fascinated as a little child whenever I see kites soaring in the sky, against wind… lifting it up higher and higher, till they are just a speck in the vast azure expanse and then disappear from the naked eye. Kite flying is also a ritual in many parts of India at Makara Sankranthi - the day when the glorious Sun begins its ascendancy and enters into the Northern Hemisphere; the time from when days start becoming longer & warmer.
As a teacher while teaching Ruskin Bond’s The Kite Maker to my Grade XI students, I got an insight into the life of Mahmood, the kite maker. In the story, Mahmood, the kite maker reminiscences the past and longs for the bygone era when he was treated with great respect and importance. As the pace of life quickened, people had no time or interest for kite flying. Later I was equally charmed by the wonderful tale of Khaled Hosseni in The Kite Runner, his debut novel. To Amir, the protagonist, kite running was a favourite pastime. The kite here is also symbolic of two overriding yet contrasting emotions in Amir – happiness as well as guilt.
To me kites are a metaphor to speak about anything that rises against odds. While I love to see these colourful things in the sky I was rudely shocked when I read about kite flying competitions. In such a competition one kite will cut the strings of other kites and emerge the winner. Wonder how one string can cut another? It is because the string is coated with glass powder! It is reported that earlier we used Indian Manja, made of normal cotton thread, coated with a mixture of rice powder and gum. Then competitions were not as cut-throat as it is now. Everything was done for pure fun.
Now it seems the markets are flooded with Chinese Manja which is made of nylon and coated with rice powder, gum and finely crushed glass powder. This gives it both a firmness and sharpness which makes it difficult to be cut in kite flying competitions. There is a deadlier Chinese version of this made out of wire called Tangus Manja, it seems. The Indian one is costly as it requires hard labour and is time consuming to make. The Chinese one on the other hand is cheap – just half the price of the Indian one.
Even more horrifying is the loss of life associated with kite flying. Children fall down roof tops and terraces while flying them. People travelling in two wheelers have had their throats slit by the manja. Many birds have also been affected – died or injured, courtesy these heartless kite fliers who use deadly versions of the Manja. And mind you, it is winter time. There a lot of avian visitors to the Indian sub continent ranging from Painted Storks to Amur Falcons.
Am sad, beyond words! How can we take pride in being humans with the power to think when we are so callous about other lives? We must ban these pastimes where death, pain and injury lurks!! Or else get back to using normal thread which will not cause any harm. Is that asking too much?
Are you a kite flier? If yes, please do spare a thought for both humans and animals! By all means go, fly your kite… but don’t you take a life!!!