V.K. Rao chases kites with an obsession that started in his childhood. Today, he teaches youngsters to fly kites and organises kite festivals to keep his spirits soaring.

As it soars, darts, dives and dips, a colourful kite in the sky buffeting the wind with a colourful tail fluttering behind it, has always construed symbolic images for everyone. For the person flying it, it’s an ethereal connection between sky and land, lending a sense of soaring freedom, of unbridled joy. To many, it’s the coming of spring, of rain, of festivals, a coming of age of sorts.

For many, it’s a memory of childhood. As a child, V. Krishnaji Rao made his own paper kites to fly every year at the Ashada Ekadashi festival in Mysore, also popular as “Galipata Habba”. “You just made you own kites those days. Buying one was out of question! It was part of our family culture,” he says of the beginning. But what started as a childhood obsession has lasted all of the 53 years of his life now. Along the way, he’s tried out every possibility with these messengers of the wind — flying miniatures that are just three centimetres wide to flying a long trail of 3,000 kites on a single string, and organising kite festivals to promote the hobby.

V.K. Rao, as he’s known popularly in the kite-flying circuit, is a regular at international kite festivals hosted in India. He started participating in kite festivals when the first state-level festival was held in Karnataka in 1988. In 1989, he started the Kite Clinic Club in Bangalore, which teaches youngsters how to make and fly kites.

“After that almost every year I have participated in Gujarat,” he says with subdued pride. Gujarat has a tradition of kite-flying on Uttarayan or Makara Sankranthi and on January 14 every year the state hosts an international kite flying festival. In fact this festival alone keeps many traditional kite-makers going, points out Rao. On this single day, around three crore kites take to the skies, with every family on rooftops participating, and traditional kite-makers of Gujarat spend the entire year making them. Rajasthan and UP are other states where traditional manjha kites are made with glass-powder coated threads that promote “cutting”.

Karnataka’s kite-flying tradition

While Ashada Ekadashi marks kite-flying in Doddabalapur, Mandya, Mysore regions, in north Karnataka it’s the Kar Hunnime. In Bangalore it’s in old areas like Chickpet that kites are still flown, as also in slums, he observes. People from the Muslim community are also keen kite-flyers, Rao says. The “balanguchchi” or the tail that balances the kite is the pride of the kite, while the flier’s skills at keeping the kite airborne longer, without getting “cut” by others are his pride. “It’s something you are born with and you have to train at an earlier age to sharpen your skills,” says Rao of the art of flying kites. “Threading a kite is the most crucial skill.” His Kite Clinic Club sees youngsters aged five to 14 coming eager to learn to fly, and seeking recommendations to participate in festivals. Rao makes his own kites after importing material from France, China, Australia. The non-expanding thread is also imported and an average kite costs him Rs. 8,000 to Rs. 12,000. The best time to fly kites in Bangalore is from June to July, when wind speeds are perfect.

“Today it’s mostly lack of open spaces that is the problem for new and young kite flyers. Moreover, TV and computers are major distractions for youngsters. Kite-flying doesn’t even enter their field of perception,” he says. Rao shudders recalling the atom his father kicked up once at home for constantly being obsessed with kites. “If you fly a kite once in a way, people in the house will tolerate it. If at my age you are obsessing over it, they call you ‘huchcha’,” he grins. But his 21-year-old son, Niranjan has caught on to his father’s hobby and has been participating independently in kite festivals too.

Kite festivals by themselves cannot attract new fliers, Rao reasons. If there were competitive sections in the kite festivals held in our country, it would egg people on to learn to fly kites, to win prize money. But most of the time, we only have non-competitive flying display events, he rues.

Those are not the only factors cutting the string. “Organising kite festivals is an expensive affair. Earlier we would organise it in Bangalore’s Jakkur airfield or Palace Grounds. Now it’s no longer feasible,” says Rao, who, along with Belgaum MLA Abhay Patil has been organising the International Kite Festival-Belgaum, for three consecutive years now. Another regularly held kite festival is the annual Dasara Kite festival in Mysore. “This is where at least 150 kite flyers from all over the state participate annually,” says Rao, offering a ray of hope. Night kite flying is another gimmick being used to attract people to kite-flying in India. Kites are laced with LED lights and it’s quite a wonderful sight to watch floating blips in the night sky.

With competitions dwindling, Rao keps his interest in kite flying up in the air with flying kites with messages — his first ever kite in Bangalore had a “Free Nelson Mandela” message. Then when the Taj Mahal had to be voted to stay on the list of the “seven wonders of the world”, he campaigned for that too with a Taj Mahal kite. Last month he had a kite up in the sky inviting voters to come out of their homes and vote during the assembly elections. He’s also made custom kites and flown them in Kannada films like Sipahi, Kodandarama and Galipata.

V.K. Rao can be reached on 8710906282.

TYPES OF KITES FLOWN AT INTERNATIONAL FESTIVALS

*Miniature kites

*Snake kites

*Rokkaku kites (Japanese fighter kites made of rice paper and bamboo)

*Designer kites

*Parafoil kites (which have pockets that fill up with air and act like parachutes)

*Dragon kites

*Stunt kites

*Delta kites (triangular)

*Bowl kites (huge circular ones with multiple strings)

KITE BYTES

*Avg weight of a kite: 200 to 300 grams

*Avg height at which it’s flown: 100 metres

*Wind speeds required for flying: 2 to 3 kmph for small ones, 5 to 15 kmph for large ones

*A kite can have anywhere between one and four strings