January 14th is one day you would be pardoned for walking with your nose in the air if you were in India. Your eyes mesmerised by the magical sight of a million kites soaring in the skies above…
Makar Sankranti – on January 14th – celebrates the harvest festival. A day for til laddoos (made from sesame seeds and jaggery). And, above all (literally!), a day for kite flying.
When I lived in my Nana’s house as a child, we had what we called a “Back Road” quite close to home. It was a rundown area on the way to the Bandra railway station, so we stayed clear – unless it was kite flying season.
This “Back Road” was home to many little box-shops selling kites of every colour and size. Delicate, diaphanous diamonds of delight that made passers-by stop in their tracks on their way to the railways tracks. Their happy ice-cream hues adding pops of colour to an otherwise drab daily commute.
The patangwallas (kite makers) toiled long into the night to get ready for the kite season, all culminating on Makar Sankranti. Holed up in their dingy shops, they’d dexterously glue triangles of tissue paper onto the kites’ flexible bamboo frames. Hundreds upon thousands of paper diamonds all stacked atop each other or standing sentinel. Fighter kites and small ones, all waiting to dance with delight in the breeze.
And, of course, if you wanted to fly a kite, you had to have manja (thread). This special kite thread was coloured and coated with powered glass and then spun onto firkees (spindles). The pink manja was quite harmless. The orange, potent. But kala manja (black) was deadly enough to slit your throat… or so I was told!
Kite flying was essentially a boy-thing. Across building terraces, rooftops and school playgrounds you’d see them – gangs of gangly boys ready to do battle with their kite-flying adversaries. This fight-unto-the-death was open to anyone with a bit of bravado and a kite to fly.
The kaccha-bacchas (the smallest kids – the runt of the litter!) had the menial tasks: holding the kite aloft for take-off and unravelling the tangled manja.
The more experienced boys were entrusted with patching up torn kites with scraps of paper and gum paste.
Which left the big boys to duel it out in the dance of death – till the final cut.
Up, up and away the kites would fly – sweeping, swirling and soaring in the great blue yonder. At at once, a challenger, seeing his chance, would swoop in for the kill, cutting his opponent’s line with a swift, sudden tug of his manja. The slain kite would fall from grace, plummeting to the earth in its kamikaze descent.
One by one, each kite would succumb to the successor.
“Kati Patang! Kati Patang!” the chokras (young boys) chorus would echo through the narrow streets as they raced to claim the spoils. While the winner’s kite was still flying high…
The vanquished and the victorious.
Holding on and letting go.
The highs and the lows.
Just like life…
* Not my own images.
So tell me, have you ever flown a kite? Or seen kites been flown, en masse? Have you ever witnessed a festival held for something unique (flowers, vintage cars, kites)?