Thursday, January 14, 2010

GO FLY A KITE

This is not my memory actually, because I can't fly kites at all. Even though I have gamely tried to, on several occasions, kites simply refuse to obey my cajolings to string them along, and they stubbornly nosedive to the ground with a thud.

It's about my Baba (father). He was a kite-enthusiast, having grown-up in the unimpeded spaces of his village Balubhara ('Sand-full') in innocent pre-partition Bangladesh, where the green of the open fields met the blue of the wide sky without too much of human interference in-between.


So, when he came over to Barrackpore in India, he carried in his heart that love for wide emptinesses that kite-flying symbolises and that expertise with strings and winds that kite-flying demands.


Yesterday was Makar-Sankranti, and the sky above Mumbai's million chawls (shanties) were potholed with quarelling and soaring kites. But in Bengal, kite-flying is a ritual associated with autumn and September's Vishwakarma Puja. So, around that time, Baba would eagerly go to the market and bring along a number of cheap and colourful thin paper kites. They had interesting names like petkatti (stomach-cut, which meant a half-and-half design in two colours). We (Bhai and I) would tag along, like two-tails twirling behind the kite.


Baba would tie the unravelled spool of un-treated, toothless string all around two supuri (betelnut) trees in our garden. Then he would make an edgy, dangerous manja (paste) which included powdered glass and apply this to the thread to give it the desired bite.

Because kite-flying on Vishwakarma puja was not just about feeling the wind in your upturned face and the pull of the string in your hands. It is a cut-throat competition where warring kites cross glass-sharp strings and the sharpest string wins. As the winning kite soars higher in ebullient victory, the defeated kite falls ignominously to earth. All the watchers of this sky-cast reality show cry 'Bhokkata' (It's cut) and rush out to catch the fallen kite as a prize, often climbing trees and bulidings when the kite gets stuck in branches or rooftop-antennas.

We would accompany Baba to our chhad (rooftop), or to the higher roof of our neighbour's house, along with a cheering group of friends. Baba, egged on by our admiring gang, would ask one of us to hold the
kite a little distance away and throw it up into the air (a job we would perform with wide-eyed reverence), while he expertly pulled the strings in the latai (string-holder). As Baba and the wind teamed up to raise the kite higher and higher, we would crane our necks to watch, squinting in the sunlight. At a sufficiently safe height, he would hand over the latai to us to hold. It was absolutely thrilling to feel the kite pulling away at the string as if it had a fierce life of its own, unchallenged master of the blue.

But when another kite came into our line of vision, we would hurriedly hand over the charge to Baba and go back to our cheer-leading roles.And the big fight for the sky would begin.

DO SHARE YOUR KITE-FLYING MEMORIES WITH US.

13 comments:

magiceye said...

beautifully narrated...
took me back a long way too!
in bombay the latai is called the firki.
the excitement and the action was all the same!! what fun!!

Rajesh said...

Beautifully written. As kids in village the kite flying was one of the game most played.

seana said...

Many of us here in the U.S. have a sense of the importance of kites from Khaled Hosseini's Kite Runner. Personally, I didn't care for the development of the book, but the opening sequence involving just such a kite fight was beautiful.

I've never had much luck with kites--can't get them aloft. We put one together once when I was a kid, but our timing was off and I pulled when someone else was holding it, and broke the sticks just like that. Somehow seemed very emblematic of all my attempts to do outdoorsy kinds of things. But kites are very beautiful. I bet a lot of windsurfers were inspired by them to try to get up in the air themselves.

Shaswati said...

I remember some other names of kites like Chandiwal (with a moon). Having grown up amongst only girls (we are 3 sisters) never knew how to fly a kite. So every time a kite would land on our terrace, we would quickly grab those and keep them till our cousins would land up and fly them for us! What pride and joy we got out of just holding the latai!!!

Hobo ........ ........ ........ said...

Two subjects I have yet to learn. One is Kite flying And other one is Kanche.

紫色 said...

很好啊 ..................................................

Santanu Sinha Chaudhuri said...

Your posts usually bring back many memories, I grew up in a world pretty much like yours. This too brings back many of my childhood days, many afternoons spent on the flat terrace of our house under a coruscating sun, feeling the tug of the Wind God on the line leading to my delicate, diaphanous kite. And what names kites had! CHOWRANGI -- a kite with four quadrants in different colours, CHANDIAL -- A kite with a moon on top, MOMBATI -- with a vertical strip in the middle that looked like a candle! I also remember the day when I nearly fell off the terrace while trying to retrieve a kite hanging to the cornice of our terrace. ... Thanks for the lovely post, Sucharita.

Peter Rozovsky said...

My life has rarely included the wide-open spaces necessary for successful, unimpeded kite flying. (In my culture, you see, kite flying is more a contemplative pursuit, and less a competitive sport.)

I do remember losing a kite on a distant rooftop at a crowded beach resort when I was very young. That kite string was my link to one of my first expriences outside my own little world. I don't remember if I ever got the kite back, though.
==============
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
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சக்தியின் மனம் said...

Beautifully written

Zabi said...

Style of your writing is gr8. It has brought back my childhood memories

http://zabishah.blogspot.com

Aleta said...

Ohhhh, this made me smile. You brought back some lovely memories. My family did not go to the beach that often, because of my Mom's skin condition. But when we did, my brother and I would go out into the sand dunes. We would fly kites and "fight" them. We wouldn't do anything to cut the strings, but we would nose dive the kites into the other's to see if we could bring the other kite down! It was always a lot of fun. Whichever kite fell, the person would run through the dunes to pick back up again and away we went with the fights. Good, good memories! Thank you!

20123 said...

朝著既定的目標走,就不會迷失。..............................

OfficeTips said...

I can sympathize with you. I just could not cajole a kite into flying :) The only positive memory of kite-flying I have had a friend's father buy lots of kites and involve all the kids of the neighbourhood in flying them once upon a Vishwakarma Puja. My kite did not get to see the sky :D - nevertheless it was great fun with all the other kids!