How Delhi’s youngsters remain hooked to the old-world spirit of kite flying

How Delhi’s youngsters remain hooked to the old-world spirit of kite flying

By ANIRUDH VOHRA | | 13 August, 2016

Wooh kata” or “charkhi pakad jaldi, charkhi” or “taan daal patang main”, are some of the expressions of one hears a lot while walking around the streets of Delhi on 15 August. They resonate around the capital as people take to their terraces with colourful kites and threads called  manjha. The skyline of the city during this time is a beautiful view of colourful papery things crisscrossing each other.

In several families it’s a tradition that has been in practice for generations. Children are seen returning from school after the flag hoisting ceremony with a little brown paper bag with oil stains on it due to the bhujia and bundi mixture in it. While mothers prepare snacks and the entire family enjoy a joyous gathering on the roof.

“The tradition has been in our family for a long time now,” says Old Delhi resident Surendra Singh. “It’s a day I used to wait for when I was a kid and now it’s my children who do so. It’s a day that needs preparation which in itself is really exciting. Going to market to buy kites, manjhachakri and then sitting up all night putting those taans in.”

Kite flying is something all Indians are used to especially the ones living in the states of Rajasthan and Gujarat during Makar Sakranti. It is a festival that is known the world over sights such as colourful kites flying high above sky scrapers and old residential buildings alike, kites of different shapes and sizes dancing to the thumkas that the pilot uses to keep it in the direction of the wind.

“For families, the preparation period lasts a day or two but starts months in advance from sourcing the paper to the skinny bamboo sticks that form the frame of the kite. Kites are of different shapes and sizes, so the process becomes even more tiresome. Panni  (a thin film of plastic) which is a bit difficult to work with takes the most time to make.”

Wazir Ahmed is a kite maker from Old Delhi who sells little unmanned aerial objects in his small shop in Chawri Bazaar. The Ahmeds have been in this business for generations with Wazir belonging to the third generation in his family to taking the profession forward. “I picked up this art from my father at a very young age as studies were something I wasn’t very good at. So looking at my father go about making these Gilas daras (a type of kite) was what kept me entertained.”

“For families, the preparation period lasts a day or two but starts months in advance from sourcing the paper to the skinny bamboo sticks that form the frame of the kite. Kites are of different shapes and sizes, so the process becomes even more tiresome. Panni (a thin film of plastic) which is a bit difficult to work with takes the most time to make,” explained Ahmed.

Gilas DaaraMangal DaaraChand Daara or Panni are a few types of Patangs while ek kanni, deed kanni and do kanni are the varying sizes specific to kite-making. Production of kites are referred to as kodis (one kodi equals to 20 kites). 

It’s not just the kite makers that have a hectic preparatory routine but also Manjha makers. Satish Ansari, Ahmedabad based Manjha maker who has roughened hands over his profession, says, “Making manjha is a very difficult job. We tie long lengths of thread on bamboo sticks and rub glass on them for hours which in turn makes the thread sharp and shiny. The process takes several hours so we have to work for months at a stretch to get the right amount of stock.”

“It is dangerous and we hurt ourselves too and at times seriously but almost all labor intensive jobs are like that and someone needs to do them, or else how would you fly your kite this year and I can promise you the manjha I make is the strongest one you will ever use. ‘Kaam se kaam 50 pantange kaato ge aap’,” Ansari adds with pride.

Manjha makers are generally contractual laborers who travel from city to city based on the availability of work. “Last year I made Manjha for a Jaipur based shopkeeper as the season there starts a month earlier,” says Ansari.

Generally all kite and manjha makers and sellers have alternate businesses as well as the demand for kites is seasonal and diminishing year by year. “Kites sell for just a few months in a year while the rest of the year is pretty much lean. During July we make these kites for 15th August, while October, November and December is a busy period for Sakranti. So, just like several other people in the business, I sell crackers during Diwali, colours during Holi and so on,” Kite maker Ahmed adds.

“December and January are the busiest months for us as due to Makar Sakranti the demand for kites becomes huge in Rajasthan, Gujarat and certain parts of Uttar Pradesh. But then again it’s been falling with time as until a few years ago I would end up selling all my stock around this time but not now,” Mahesh Kumar, a Jaipur based kite maker and seller says.

This fall in demand can be attributed to several reasons; like rapid urbanization which has left urban dwellers in fast-paced cities like Delhi no time to indulge in this art any more. The plethora or alternate modes of entertainment like playstations for kids these days have also added to the slow death of the art of kite-flying. 

“Earlier it was the kids that would push their parents to get them these kites but thanks to television and a million cartoons being telecasted on them daily, it’s no longer the case.” Kumar added. “But not all is lost as several hotels and resorts in Rajasthan and Gujarat host kite flying festivals to cater to their guests which has helped a lot in the last few years. Add to that the kite flying festivals organized by the Rajasthan and Gujarat governments, so over all the rate of fall in demand is still not that alarming.”

So if the kites on 15th August do manage to fascinate you this year, travel to Rajasthan or Gujarat around January to get in on the action once again

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