15th of August means Kite-Flying!
This past Sunday, the 15th of August, was India’s Independence Day. The holiday celebrates the anniversary of India’s birth as a sovereign nation and its independence from Britain. Throughout the country, there are flag-hoisting ceremonies, and the Indian Prime Minister gives a public speech. Part of the holiday unique to North India, though, is kite-flying and kite-fighting, in which competitors try to cut down one another’s kites with the kite strings!
Kite-flying actually happens in Delhi throughout the summer, and on sunny days you can usually spot a few of the brightly-colored kites flitting about in the sky. As Independence Day approaches, though, the number of kites in the sky gradually begins to increase, and along the roads there are children practicing their kite-fighting skills in preparation for the big day.
Amrit and I made plans for Independence Day to go to one of our friend’s rooftop terraces in the neighborhood so that we could fly kites. I was so excited to watch the kite-fighting, and I soon learned what an art it is as Amrit showed me the intricacies of the process throughout the day!
First, one must select a suitable kite. The kite is made either out of thin paper or plastic and small wooden dowels. The kite needs to have enough give and flexibility to fly properly. Once you have a kite, it must be threaded with just the right length of string tied in the correct places to allow for the proper balance.
The kites are then attached to a kind of string called manja, which is coated in glass powder. This is necessary for the kite-fighting, because the string needs to be abrasive enough to cut someone else’s kite down from the sky.
Launching the kite into the sky requires a little wind, and a lot of luck. Once the kite catches the breeze, though, it’s easy to send it soaring off into the distance. I tried holding onto the kite a few times after it had already been launched, but I would promptly hand it back to Amrit every time the wind would send the string slipping through my fingers. The thought of slicing my fingers on glass-coated string was just too much for me!
Once the kite is in the sky, you begin your look-out for a competitor. Kites slowly begin to make their way towards one another, preparing for a fight. The fight itself is so fun to watch! The two kites come so close together that they could practically kiss. They tango for awhile while each flyer tries to get the perfect position to cut the other one’s string. Cutting the string requires finger skills and good timing. Tensions rise as the two kites continue to tangle together until, suddenly, one of the kites drops and then begins to float slowly towards the ground, dipping in a see-saw motion on its way down. If you’re the winner and your kite is still high in the sky, then you and your friends get to celebrate and yell “Aiii Booooow!” (Neither Amrit nor any of his friends knew what this meant – it’s just what they had always heard.)
Amrit, it turns out, is very good at flying and cutting other kites. He cut five, and lost only two of his own. Amrit and his friends started the day with over fifty kites, and ended with just a handful remaining. We continued flying until it was too dark for us to see the kites in the sky anymore. As we walked home from our friend’s house, we could see stray kites hanging from trees and wires, and could still hear people yelling “Aiii Booooow!” from their rooftops as they savored their last few moments of kite-fighting before dark.