Patched, luminescent cobras, owls, kites (Milvus migrans)l on strings serenading lanterns, boxes, circles, squares, rings, rectangles, crowns…. to the accompaniment of drum beats and tribal dance steps.
I was at Delhi International Kite Flying festival ( December 2012) where paper aviators kept pace with the variegated flavor of India Gate grounds….a ‘kite’ tree sprouting snazzy spindles, kites in bamboo, tissue paper, elastic paper and cloth; chintzy bangles and gift items – a concession to women visitors; dancers, hawkers, spectators, school children conscious of their winter uniforms, the silks and traditional Indian salwar – kameez vying for attention with western wear and the awed tourist hounded by persistent photographers selling slice of British- Indian history under the watchful eyes of city cops.
Kites had been introduced (another product) in India by Chinese travelers F Hien and Hsuan Tsang in 4th and 7th. Century and captured the collective imagination of the country. Festivals and public holidays, especially ‘Makar Shakranti’ on January 14 and Republic Day on January 26 are special days when kites jostle for celestial space. International kite festivals in Jaipur and Ahmedabad coincide with Makar Shankranti* festival.
I was always fascinated by the soaring kite and would stalk my four brothers, they refused to let a girl fly a kite, carrying their ‘charki’ (holder for glass coated thread or manjha). It required a certain amount of skill as I had to release the thread avoiding tangles and follow the flyer on parapets and edges as he released the diamond shaped ‘Patang’ or ‘guddia’ over the mango trees. Any sign of squeamishness and I would be promptly banished from the terrace. I did pick up a few tricks, a slight flick can maneuver the direction and outcome, and tried it years later at Surfside beach near Houston, USA where my son had no option but to hand me the string.
Kites followed me to New Delhi and would wait for the aerial ballet of dozens of kites let loose over Delhi skies, confusing the avian population, on 26th January (Republic Day). The ‘cut’ kites were chased by eyes glued to the dipping kite till it would get entangled in a tree or electric wires. The loot would occasionally end in scuffles between groups and the torn kite left forlorn on ground.
Travels and growing children wrinkled kite fascination to movies and novels* and it was an unscheduled visit to the Delhi kite festival that brought back memories of flying paper on sunny winter afternoons.
* The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini * *http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Kite_Runner