JNU recently witnessed a kite flying event, and while some enthusiastically pulled and tugged at the strings to launch their kites to the sky, some others were content with watching and pondering over what it means to send the happy tokens up into the air.
I have lost count of the number of times, kite-flying and kites have been deployed as imageries, metaphors and analogies for rumination over greater questions on life, love, politics, and the world. The small square colourful bit of paper strung across crossed bamboo sticks, climbing heaven as it gulps air, bobbing and dipping, cruising the winds. It rises over the din, the chaos, the filth, the dust, the cacophony, the rush, and a thousand other conundrums that constitute our life. Attached to the taught string wound on a spool, and manipulated by the deft handling of the kite flier, it soars and soars, high up. High and free, like a thing of the skies, one with the birds, and clouds, unearthly.
We, the lowly earth-bound mortals of the dirt and the grime, aware that we can never taint the wide cerulean expanse of the sky, have devised this proxy form of asserting and claiming dominion over the skies, the heavens? I am always amazed at the possessiveness and the fierce competitiveness of the kite-fliers as they tug and draw at the string, as if the tensed string connects not to a lone coloured patch in the sky but to an icon, a token, a proxy for the self who aspires to be there in the skies. The loud cries and hoots and the excitement while looping over a rival kite to snap at the string. The triumphant smile after having brought down a rival kite, and the sorry image of the string cut loose and trailing on the ground, and the mad happy kite swirling down to land who knows where? Over the roof top? Caught on the highest branch of a tree? At the edge of some deserted field? Who knows where fate would direct an unfortunate kati patang?
Kite flying demands a lot of patience, something like fishing. It requires good instincts, in selecting the right kite, gauging the wind, manoeuvring it against the wind to put it in the air—it is instinctual, you can never put your finger at what is it they do different — luck and instinct and probably a little childish glee and some skills. And once it is up, there’s not much to do other than to watch it float in the air unless you are into competitive kite flying; which mind you, can get very fierce. I have always considered kite flying a quieter, patient and placid sort of activity, something like skipping stones. But how quickly the sport can transform into an aggressive, noisy, and lively activity, being followed zealously by the kite gapers! Can any other sport bring out such wide range of emotions, states of being and reactions from people?
Kite flying perhaps is also a legacy from the past, an inheritance from the community bound, group-oriented or family-centric activities. How many times have you spotted in cinema, songs and TV soaps kite flying shown as a family get-together event, or serving as an ice-breaker among neighbours or spreading the spirit of general camaraderie in the mellow afternoons of late winter in the mohalla? Kite flying and Bollywood romance of course takes a special pride of place in our country. Kite flying is also perhaps one of the few sports which show young women as participating and competing with young lads, under the watchful gaze of the elders and family members.
Kites have been flown in South and South East Asia for ages, a gift from the Chinese where large, colourful and different shaped kites are flown. Initially used for military purposes for reconnaissance or sending messages and propaganda; and for weather forecasting. It was later used in religious ceremonies, to ward off bad spirits and in prophesies, there are also suggestions of how looking at a kite can improve one’s eye sight—kite flying acquires a place in the long series of attempts made by man to romance the sky, to fly. It is the precursor to the airplane and hand gliders.
It symbolizes freedom, free-spiritedness and zeitgeist when flown around the month of Independence in August. It is symbolic of the change in weather, of joie de vivre and celebration during the months of harvest in early January. Kites are suggestive of harbingers, and heralds of a joyous bounty. It gives us some insight into understanding why kites were banned during the Cultural Revolution in China, apart from its usage as a means of communication, the spirit of kite flying and the image of free soaring kites in the air jars against the ideas of authoritarianism, dictatorship and control. And it is said every year on the second Sunday of October, people all over the world fly kites to celebrate the bond they share with people from other parts of the world—to affirm the unity in the diversity of humankind.
Cheap and easy to make, it fits in with other indigenous long-forgotten sports –the stuff the old-bygone childhood dreams are made of – tops, marbles, gilli-danda, catapults and many others. And till now I believed, you need a little bit of luck—some wind, like mariners and sailors of forlorn years would say, as Mark Twain once said “catch the trade winds in your sails!” Till one day reading up on kites I discovered you don’t need a wind, much less luck or a lot of skill or resources or an open turf, to put it in the sky, a buoyant spirit and a long free afternoon will do!
The writer is studying at JNU and works for The Informer.
Categories: Sports and Wellbeing