With a gentle tug at the spool of thread, the symmetrical paper takes wing. The kaleidoscope of colours on its fragile frame comes alive. It twists and turns in the orange hues of the evening sky, dancing to the whims of the breeze. Like a bird on its first flight, fluttering, unsure of its course. Strung with wind-power, it breaks the routine, soaring higher and higher. Enter the world of kite-flying, a time-tested art that lets your imagination run riot.
In kite-flying circles, the kaathadi (kite) paper and the thread are much more than mere knick-knacks. Kite designer P Gokul of the 40-year-old V A Chelliah Kite Shop in the bustling narrow lane of Old Washermanpet in north Chennai, gives us insights into the kite flying tradition.
Shaping patterns on kites is no ordinary task. From crafting geometric folds to delicately fixing the wooden frame on the flimsy paper, every stage counts, says Gokul, who has conceived motley themes, including sceneries, snapshots of the animal world, and deities, for his creative venture. His work varies according to the season, he says.
“Even the fold matters. It decides the flying pattern of the kite,” Gokul adds.
The shop features plastic-wrapper kites that are outsourced from Calcutta. The small, light-weight kites are a big hit.
Festival of colours
Kite-flying is an adrenalin-rush filled sport. With excitement written all over his face, the connoisseur relives the scenes that unfold during the annual kite flying championship held in Old Mahabalipuram Road in Chennai. This year it is on April 12 and 13. He tells us about fighter kites that dot the sky on the eve of the match. “For newbie fliers, watching all the action in the air is like a dream sequence,” he says.
Nearly 124 teams comprising three members each throng the open grounds near the Thiruporur Temple, all set for the thrilling match. The members of each team chalk out their game plan, splitting the work of flying the kite, manoeuvring it and designing strategies based on wind direction. The fireworks begin. Spectators watch in awe.
“It’s all about having fun throughout the day. Nobody really cares about winning or losing. Their aim is to enjoy watching their kites in the sky. At the end of the day, everybody is a winner,” Gokul says.
Over the years, he has witnessed a steady increase in the number of competitors in the kite festival, a testimony to the growing popularity of the tradition.
Nuances of kite-flying
Ace kite-flyers patiently think of strategies for the competition. They have just half an hour to unstring three kites in a row to advance to the next stage of the game. The devil is in the details, says Gokul, referring to the nail-biting climax that unfolds towards the end.
While a fast blowing wind translates to a ‘quick deal’ with the target kite losing to the challenger within a distance of 100 m, a slower wind speed means a comparatively long wait. “Choosing the precise momentum is the key,” Gokul says.
“We learn to assess the wind direction while flying the kite. Depending on that we decide when to strike the opponent’s kite. But with practice, I’ve learnt to come up with on-the-spot ideas to score a win,” explains the patron, whose team won the first prize in the kite festival two years ago.
Ask him what he likes best, making the kaathadi or choreographing its dance in the sky, he shares, “It’s the simple joy of flying kites that keeps me going.”