Kite flying

Today’s piece is about kite flying. Growing up in Mumbai seeing kites flying was a common sight certain times of the year. Since kites were made of paper and water was a dampener for threads used to fly the kites wet weather months were ruled out. A bit of breeze help keep kite flying. Gujarat State in India has a tradition of flying kites to celebrate start of warmer weather after winter. Known as Uttarayan there and celebrated as harvest festival Makar Sankaranti in other parts of the country. Let’s dive into or rather soar into kite flying experience!

What is needed to fly kites? Apart from the kite a spool to wind and unwind the thread. Open space for the kite to take off. Blessings from weather and wind Gods also help the venture flying high 🙂

What are the keys to keep a kite flying high and straight? One key is the Y-shaped string knot from the kite to the spool. It has to be made in a way that ensures almost even weight distribution and prevent sway in any direction. Care also has to be taken to make sure that the holes in the kite are just small enough for the strings to pass around and not result in a slight tear that wind could enlarge and render the kite unflyable. Tying those knots used to be an art in itself back in the days. Once the string attached to the kite is tied to the spool string we are ready to fly when air traffic controllers of nature give the go ahead 😀

Anything to note about the spool and string? Spools for flying kites come with handles on either side for a person to hold it and wind/unwind fast without touching the string. That is very critical during aerial kite combat which I will come to later 😀 One person for flying and another person for handling the spool works better. As they say “Many hands make light work” 🙂 Strings can either be thin or a thicker twine. Thin strings make it easier to keep the kite flying while thicker twines need stronger wind to avoid gravitational pull down. Both have their own uses in combat missions 😉

Without a personal experience no story is complete. So, here we go! I tried kite flying at ground level in the open space of the building where we lived. Most times poor kite used to bang hard on the ground despite my best efforts to fly. In short it was more like someone attaching wings to their arms and hoping to fly by flapping their arms with prayer on their lips. Gravity is not a good ally for such endeavors unfortunately 😦 My admiration for the street cred of guys flying kites on the street went up several notches after my own experience. They would just get a person to hold the kite from a distance and after the holder let go of kite on gentle tug of string the street pros would get the kite flying with a few pulls seemingly effortlessly. All the while dodging overhead electrical cables, trees, buildings and other objects blocking the flight. My neighbor was an avid kite flyer and pretty good at it. So, I switched to caddying for him which meant I was the master spool handler while he could focus on flying and keeping air combatants at bay or defeat them in aerial battles. I guess he couldn’t have been Batman without me playing the role of Robin 😉 We graduated to take our kite flying adventures to building terrace. Height with wind blowing and no obstacles in the way helped the kites soar.

Aerial combat: What is life without a few battles, right? So it was during our kite flying adventures. We had to be on the lookout for those itching for a battle in the air. Sometimes it was mere flexing of muscles to mark their space. Other times the battles were for real, the entanglements thrilling and test of skill, nerve and power. Power as in heft of kite, supply of string, rapid reflexes to pull string rapidly or let go while the strings of each kite battled out for supremacy. At times more kite flyers would join in the battle either trying to assert their power or help out an ally kite flyer 🙂 The string type would determine the strategy used in battle situations. Kite flying strings usually had a coat of finely powdered glass. In thinner strings the density of glass was higher. This lent a thin, sharp blade-like effect if properly used. While battles involving thicker twines were more of battles of attrition with each side trying to wear out the other (usually battle ended when a weak point of string was reached OR a combatant ran out of string OR a string reached a point where it was knotted to another string to make it longer making the task of enemy easier to cut a stuck string rather than a freely moving string) if you had the thinner, sharper string wisdom lay in making a quick surgical strike rather than indulging in long drawn out battle. Reason being thinner strings could cut thicker twines like a hot knife running through butter (ok, that was an exaggeration but you got what I was trying to say 😀 ). If someone with fast reflexes could pull the thin string very rapidly it would have the effect of cutting the same portion of the opponent string very fast. You see, physics come in here (Pressure = Force / Area) and it’s the same effect as pin pricking a balloon while a heavier flat object not breaking the balloon. The Robin guy has to be prepared to wind and unwind rapidly as needed for Batman to win 🙂

Sidelights: It was quite a sight to see free flight of cut kites as the wind carried them before gravity had the final say and brought them down. The finder usually was the new owner. Nothing like a freebie as reward, right? 🙂 Many were my futile attempts to run after a cut kite and get it while or after it landed. Usually these battles were won by those who were faster, bigger and stronger like most other things in life 😦 But the reward was in trying. If a cut kite landed on a tree or on overhead cable that presented it owns challenges. Typically one would tie a small stone/pebble at the end of a string long enough to reach around the loose string of the cut kite and hope with weight of stone gravity would take care of bringing the kite down gentle enough for a soft landing, not to smash it on the way down. This task also required the precision of a surgeon 😀 Stone/pebble with enough weight to reach the required height and at the same ensuring stone did not directly hit and tear the kite!

Kite flying has been featured in some Bollywood movies too like the one here:

Summary: Kite flying is a pastime, it also holds a few life lessons
1) While many a effort starts with high hopes it takes sustained effort to keep the flag flying high
2) Life is about seeking a high in one form or another. Some seek it by flying kites, some by flying airplanes, some through music, some making money and so forth. I get mine by writing. What is thine way for a high?

Author: Rajaram 'Raj' Gopalan

Hi All, Welcome to my home in cyberspace! You can call me Raj. Feel free to explore, discuss, comment and most importantly have a good time!

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