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Kite fights, spirited duels up in the skies

Pair of blue kites

Pair of blue kites  

The edgy excitement of kite-flying, taming the wind that sustains the lift and fending of the competitors

Changa chait! The piercing and excited cry, literally ‘the kite is cut’, rang out on a pleasant afternoon in the Indian Aid Mission compound in Kathmandu. A kite had just been cut and vanquished after a spirited aerial duel and was now drifting downwards.

Half a dozen kids in the 9-12 age group, all peering into the sky, hands cupped over eyes, willed the kite to land safely within the compound. When it was clear the kite would do so, there were exuberant whoops and then a mad frenzy to catch the kite before it touched down.

This was a spectacle repeated many times during the fortnight of Dashain, the auspicious festival in Nepal. Kite-flying was an integral part of the festival and the skies would be full of them — in all shapes, sizes and colours. Some people believed that kite-flying was a way of requesting the rain god Indra not to send down any further rain and to bring prosperity to the kite-fliers. Others believed kite-flying was a way of contacting and honouring ancestors or of guiding the recently deceased to heaven.

I was part of that group of youngsters and the thrills of being part of two kite-flying seasons in the mid-1960s are fresh in my mind. Initially we were happy just watching the kite fights and running to reclaim those that landed in our compound. Sometimes there would be heartbreak when a gust of wind would take the kite to a neighbouring property, much to the delight of the children there. On other occasions the kite would get entangled in the branch of a tree or come to rest on the roof of one of the compound buildings. The best climbers in the group would then have to undertake the somewhat hazardous act of retrieving the kite.

Later on, when we were able to cajole our parents into giving us some pocket money we proudly became kite-flyers ourselves. The kites we could afford were small and the string ordinary and short in length, but it was always exhilarating to get the kite airborne. The take-off required perfect coordination between the person holding and releasing it and the flyer who would then have to deftly pull and loosen the string in turns.

During my second year in Kathmandu, we had become confident enough to take part in kite fights. We got kites, a wooden lattai to spool the string and lengths of manja string coated with powdered glass to make them abrasive. We had to be careful not to cut ourselves with the string. Mastering the lattai also took time.

On a clear Saturday afternoon we were finally ready for our first kite fight. There were no fighter kites in the vicinity when we launched our lovely green-and-yellow kite. We took turns with the lattai and soon friendly winds blowing northwards had taken ours to a vertiginous height. After an hour it appeared there was no one to challenge us and we prepared to pull down our kite.

It was then that we noticed, to our east, a large red kite gaining height rapidly. The speed and smoothness of the ascent indicated the flyer was skilful and experienced. The kite seemed a good distance away and we kept admiring it while pulling down our own. All of a sudden, the red kite made a sharp move towards ours. There was no mistaking the menace and intent. We had our hearts in our mouths; our first fight was going to be against a professional. But we were a plucky and wily bunch and game for it.

With the attacker closing in, we loosened our string fast. A kite gets cut when the string is taut and the point of contact is static, so the trick was to let our kite float without losing control. We veered our kite sharply away signalling a desire not to engage. The evasive manoeuvres continued for some time. The attacker, sensing that we might get away without engaging in combat, made a reckless bid to intercept us. The red kite spun out of control. All we had to do was to bring our kite down fast and across it to make the cut. A win in our first kite fight was unbelievable and the jubilant shouts of ‘Changa Chait’ echoed in our compound!

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2020 12:45:01 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/kite-fights-spirited-duels-up-in-the-skies/article18446840.ece

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