Thursday, January 14, 2010


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.