Kite Flying Nostalgia

Written by Praveen Manoharan

Introduction:

Being a native of Chennai and having spent 3 years of my life, living in the industrial North-Western neighborhood of Padi, there is no way I could have missed playing the dangerous, colorful, exuberant game of  kite fighting. Yes, the ‘manja’, ‘deal’, ‘kathadi’ and all such stuff! This article is a memoir of some of my kite flying experiences which I believe a majority of you wouldn’t have had.

It all started after my family moved to Padi when I was twelve. I was fascinated by the sky with so many colourful kites of all sizes and shapes. I tried to make some kites with newspapers but they didn’t fly. Later I found a kite shop in the locality and purchased them. The kites were really cheap. The prices would be Re.0.5,1, Rs 1.5,2,3,4,5. The prices correspond to their sizes with the Re.1 kite, usually having the dimensions of a typical textbook to the Rs.5 kite which is the largest! (A carrom board’s size).  You also need the string for flying kites which may be ordinary or ‘manja’. The prices depend on the quality and the type of string. I remember buying the spindle-type (roller type) manja string twice, first time for Rs.85 and the next time for Rs.135 (I still have this and am proud of it!).

Actually, I’m referring only to fighter kites but in fact, there are so many types of kites flown all around the world.
A fighter kite without the ‘manja’ is as useless as a bucket without a bottom. The manja is infamous for being a killer source for so many accidents.

Let me give some information taken from Wikipedia regarding Manja :

Manja (or manjha):

It  is the abrasive string used for fighterkites in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Chile, India, Nepal and Pakistan. It is gummed, coloured and coated with powdered glass. Traditional recipes use rice gluten, tree gums and similar natural ingredients, and the exact recipe is often a closely guarded secret of the individual maker. By contrast this is a modern recipe used by some in Tamil Nadu:

Ingredients:

  • Finely powdered glass
  • Industrial adhesive such as Vajram
  • Maida flour ( Maidha Movu)
  • Aluminum oxide, abrasive ( Called as Sudu Movu in Chennai, looks white in Colour)
  • Zirconia alumina, abrasive ( Called as Iron Powder in Chennai, looks Black in Colour)
  • Coloring

The water is boiled with the addition of vajram, to which is added a paste of Maida and finely powdered glass pieces to make a thick colloidal solution and the abrasives are added. The colouring is added, while stirring is continued to make a thick paste without the sedimentation of the glass and abrasives.
Actually what is kite fighting? How is it done? Continue reading to know more:

The Kite Fighting Technique (Wikipedia again) :

Kites are fought all throughout the year and during special kite flying festivals in the region. Two fighters will entangle the glass powder coated manja while flying their kites in the sky and try to cut off the string of each other’s kites by pulling it. When the kite is flown with the line taut, the kite is deformed by the wind pressure, giving it a degree of stability. When the line tension is reduced, either by letting out more line or by the flyer moving into wind, the kite will begin to become unstable and begin to rock from side to side, or in extreme cases even spin. By reapplying tension at the right moment, the kite will move in the direction that the flyer requires.

Although a spool that allows rapid winding and release of line is used, often the flyer will fly the kite by holding the line itself, with one or more assistants to help manage the slack line between the flyer and the spool.

Something from my experience:

Kite flying takes place mainly during specific festivals particularly the spring festival known as Basant, during Makar Sankranti (Pongal). The months of December, January, February and March are the best due to the low-intensity sun rays and good high speed winds from the South during the spring season. During these months, I used to hit the terrace with my brother. I would be in direct active combat during kite fighting( we call this, ‘deal’) and my brother would play the passive, yet important role of handling the spindle. Those were tense moments! Kites are cut either by letting the cutting line loose at high speed or by pulling the line in a fast and repeated manner. I always used the former method. The joy of winning a battle is ecstatic but at the same time, some of the losing moments had even made me get mad and frustrated, leading to short-term sibling rivalry by trying to make each other the scapegoat for the tragedy.

The evening sky, particularly on Sundays, used to be colourful, lively, dotted with kites of all colours, types and sizes. I used to have regular ‘friends’ and ‘mutual friends’ in the form of kites rising up from certain terraces. I have never ever met those guys behind the kites but there will be a mutual understanding between us through the ‘wireless medium (air)’; the ‘carrier’ of the message, being the kite with its intentional flying pattern in the air whose message can be ‘decoded’ by others, whether he is challenging for a fight or whether he is flying at his leisure or whether he is frightened to face a fight. Some guys turn up ‘skyline’ on certain times and some adults, only on Sundays, as they would be having offices on other days. A neighbor opposite my house would turn up every weekend and kite fight with only the best, larger kites. We both have an almost 50% – 50% win-loss ratio. One kid, two streets apart, always fought (and lost most of the time) with me with Re.1 small kites.

Those days, I used to go to school with 2 or 3 cuts in my fingers (due to holding the thread). Children at the age of twelve generally don’t fly big kites at long distances nor do they tackle and win the ‘deal’ regularly with adults and youngsters who are masters of the combat. But I am proud of the fact that I was an expert in this unrecognized sport at that age!

new (1)
Current Situation:

This is the saddest section of this article to me. Now-a-days, spotting a kite in the Chennai sky is very rare. My father and all my uncles, who also grew up in Chennai know to fly kites. In fact, all boys who grew up in Chennai those days would have flown the kite at least once, irrespective of whether they are rich or poor. But during the recent years (before the ban), the kites were not flown by men of the better-off society which was one of the factors for its negligence. The enthusiasm of flying kites diminished and it had got confined to mostly the poor and slum sections of the city. Also, Kites were not given that much importance and competitions were not conducted as in North Indian states like Gujarat, Rajasthan, etc.

Kite flying within the city limits was not encouraged for many years following the deaths and injuries caused by the thread to Bike riders and children and strong manja was banned. Children chase the loose, cut kites and meet with accidents while trying to retrieve the stuck kites from trees/ electric poles. But the police ban in 2009(which is upheld till date) on the art of ‘Kite flying’ sounded the death knell for it. This ban has literally ‘killed’ it. Even I stopped flying them from then onwards. I am not against the decision because it is essential for public safety. Even when I cut a kite or lose one, I used to pray that the kite should safely fall somewhere without causing harm to anyone.

I still have a spindle and a handful of kites in my cupboard locked for about 6 years just as a remembrance of the adventures which I had. I still have a small hope that the ban would be lifted somehow with the manja getting replaced by an alternate ‘safe’ thread. But as of now, only my beautiful memories flow turbulently into my mind whenever I occasionally see a kite.

Written by Praveen Manoharan

One thought on “Kite Flying Nostalgia

  • wow
    it was nice to read your website , i am also owner of kite store from Gujarat, INDIA and we are really loosing the culture of kite flying these days but thats the nature of things .
    i wish more people fly kites and keep the tradition alive for future generations and use kite flying as a stree busting activity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *