We ruled the skies
Daddy was a great kite flyer. His passion for kites was so strong that to tell him to fly a ready-made kite was akin to blasphemy. So as soon as kite flying season would come there would be rolls of maanja, couple of phirkis, bamboo and sheets of glazed paper or China paper, as some would call it because Chinese lanterns were made of it, lying around the house. Mummy would be asked to make a pot of 'layee' ( an adhesive made by cooking refined flour) Daddy didn’t believe in using the market glue. Then there would be pieces of glass, which he would very strictly forbid us from even looking at forget touching!
Now the entire process of making kites for the season would begin. What made it so exciting was the involvement of imagination……no ordinary kites for us.
“Aur phir Chakotri,” he’d address me, smiling delightedly, “what kind of kite do you want?”
The question would go to Jasper Nana too. But whereas Jasper would be more thoughtful about the kind of flying object he desired, obviously taking in other “technical aspects,” I’d let my imagination fly. I think I must have made some very impossible demands, in fact I’m sure I did, but none would be brushed aside with a flat “ NO.” Daddy would work around my original design, retaining what he could to keep me happy and also produce something that would take off.
The maanja was the most difficult part. I can’t recall the exact process but I know the glass would be powdered very fine. A difficult task and the male domestic help would also be requisitioned for this, much to Mummy’s annoyance, because the only male help was also the cook. And then the string would be dipped in some sort of gooey stuff and drawn through the powdered glass. This needed space so it would be done in the backyard which was very big.
But I’m drawing out this narration too much…let’s come to the day we became the rulers of the sky. One day Jasper Nana and yours truly decided that the pecha wins we had in our kite flying sorties, were not very impressive, so I went with our laments to Daddy. And as usual, bless him, he was up to the challenge.
“Abhi dikhate hain unko patang kya cheez hai. Arre, I’ll make you such a kite that they’ll run with their tails between their legs.”
Thus was fashioned a kite that was taller than I was, so it would be over four feet. A lot of thought and planning went into the dynamics of this monster ( it looked like one to me). Then the question of maanja was raised by Jasper, and Daddy totally agreed that we needed something much stronger but not too heavy either. Now don’t ask me what he did because I don’t remember, all I can recall with absolute detail and delight, even to this day, is the pride I felt as the kite soared majestically into the sky.
The first day we took it for its maiden launch, Daddy had in true ‘Daddy’ nature made it a picnic. He got Mummy to pack the picnic basket. In those days I doubt if there was any home without a wicker picnic basket. Our destination, a twelve minute walk from home, was a small hillock. My job was to lug the picnic basket which, given my diminutive size was big. But I wasn’t going to complain about that and managed to keep it an inch above the ground.
And then I waited with bated breath for the take-off. Smooth! It climbed against the wind like a dream. As it made its way upward and onward, Daddy brought it into combat with every kite in 'pechable' distance. Annihilation was swift and sure. Our grand-daddy of all kites dominated the blue expanse, as it held steady, a tiny speck in the sky.
By the third day word had spread and the regulars who flew their kites there vanished kite et al, as soon as they saw us coming with our giant. After the initial egoistic boost, I felt a bit deflated as we watched our kite do a drunken swoon, as it sailed unchallenged and uninterrupted. This wasn’t fun. We had taken away the fun from the entire activity. What should have been pure enjoyment and fun and games had turned into a battle for supremacy. Of course I couldn’t elucidate all this but I did comment on it.
“They’ve all gone away,” I said quietly. “They are scared of us,” I added with undisguised disappointment.
“Yes, daud gaye sare. Your kite is the king.” Daddy had failed to notice that I wasn’t quite pleased with this dubious entitlement.
“But it’s not so nice without any other kites. It was so much fun on the first day,” I insisted in an effort to make my point. No one sensed how I was feeling. They were too elated with the momentary thrill of being rulers of that small patch of blue.
I had learnt a lesson.
Later on the realization would imprint on my mind that there is a fine line between healthy competition and unhealthy competition and we must remember never to cross this boundary. Ever since then I have gauged the level of competition to set my standards and then I’ve competed with myself alone. In the bargain if I outdid the others it would be a bonus for me….! It was always a win-win situation. I either added to my prizes or I added to my learning experience.
Manja.....the twine used to fly the kite.
Phirki.....a kind of spool on which the twine is wrapped. It has elongated handles on either side which rest between the thumbs and forefingers.
Aur phir chakotri......What now chakotri(a name he had coined up for me because of my round face.)
Pecha.....The act of engaging and cutting an opponents kite.
Abhi dikhate hain unko patang kya cheez hoti hai.....We'll show them right now what a kite is.
Daud gaye sare.....They've all run away.
Pechable.....a combination of 'pecha' and 'able'. Coined up by us to mean within striking distance.
See you tomorrow.