January is a good way to start the new year. With temperatures dipping a little more and the festival of harvest around the corner, it brings with it the many colourful kites that dot the skyline like sprinkles on a cupcake. By now of course the sight of children scrambling through streets, looking for their fallen prizes may be familiar. However, supplying the fun are decades-old kite shops in the city who look forward to this month – the only busy time in the year for them.
A stroll through Gulzar House area in old city will introduce you to many kite hawkers vying for your attention and purse strings. The array of colourful kites in varying sizes is almost dizzying to look at. Typical to every year, these shops sport designs that echo the most current trends – from the kind of manja (the kite line) to the pattern of the kite to the symmetry of colours.
“We have different varieties of kites here. The most common and popular design is called Do Kalam, which is an Urdu word. Our kites come in different sizes; there is the half pound patang (kite), which is priced at `7 and a pound patang, priced at `12. Apart from these, we have these specially designed China kites and the price of these ranges from `20 to `300 depending on the size, colour and design,” explains Haider Ali. Aged 48, Haider has quite literally grown up with his family’s kite business that is five decades old. The store, Ahmed Kites, runs throughout the year.
Like his, there are many other family run stores that have been there for decades, some even a century.
For instance Venugopal Bajaj now runs his family’s kite business – Bajaj Patang Mahal – that was set up 100 years ago. Also open throughout the year, they however see the best of the business in the month of January, like everybody else.
“January is the festival season, so we flourish throughout this period. However, we do well during Dasara too because children have holidays during that period. The fact is that we mostly rely on children and their holidays. Whenever children are free, they come here in numbers,” Venugopal shares.
An acute businessman, he begins to show and explain the variety of kites on sale this year, hoping to catch our eye with some.
“Each kite is available in different designs. We have Gol Kamph, Doredar, Dulandaar, Chand Tara, Zeebia and Pachisi design kites. These kites are available in all sizes and the price ranges from `2 to `10,” says the 45-year-old.
Celebrity faces on kites also are the continuing trend, and for those of you who can guess whose visage stands out this year, brownie points for you. Gujarat’s Chief Minister and BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s beaming face smiles down on us not just from the racks in the store but also from the open sky.
“This year, Narendra Modi has become a huge rage, so we decided to bring in his kites. All of these printed kites come from Baroda, Ahmedabad and Jaipur. Among children, cartoon characters like Angry Birds and Chhota Bheem have become a huge craze this year,” points out Bajaj.
If politics and cartoons aren’t your thing, then there’s always Bollywood. “We have a lot of kites printed with stars like Salman Khan and Amitabh Bachchan. They are naturally a big hit since children find them pleasing to the eye. But yes, we have a lot more cartoon-themed kites this year,” shares Haider.
What is really fascinating while (window) shopping at these stores is the variation in size. From really humongous kites the breadth of one’s outstretched arms to tiny miniatures that fit in one’s palm, there is a size for everyone. Pointing to the miniatures, Venugopal says, “These kites are called bachcha (little) patangs. They are mainly used for display in five star hotels, hospitals and showrooms.”
Apart from a variety in kites, there is a variety of manja also available. From different colours to thickness, these kitelines cater to all kinds of fliers, ranging from the blunt line for an amateur to a spool of sharp line for the professional. Given that the whole premise of the game of kites is to cut the competition out of the sky, choosing the right manja becomes just as important as the kite.
“More than the kites, people are particular about the manja. The sharper it is, the more kites they can cut. So having sharp manja is critical,” explains Anand Reddy. The 32-year-old who runs Shubham Patang stores, has seen many a kite season and knows just what kind of kiteline his clients look for. “We have wire manja and special manja from Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, which is the most popular,” he says.
While the myriad choices may indicate a booming business, kite dealers say that sales have definite’y taken a hit in recent years. With January being their only month of good business, they’re hoping that things will pick up as the days inch closer to Sankranthi. Venugopal gives an interesting take on the sport, and tries to incentivise his customers.
“Flying kites is a wonderful exercise, and it not only makes you feel spirited, it also improves your eyesight,” he quips.
Another area popular for the kite market is Dhoolpet. While Gulzar House shows the front-end of the market, kite sellers can be seen actually making the flying device at Dhoolpet. Amid the gullies of old city, we stumble across a tiny shelter filled with kites. The house, located at lower Dhoolpet area, is owned by Prakash Singh and Geeta Bai. They have two daughters and make kites and Ganesh statues for a living.
“We start making kites in the first week of September. We bring coloured paper and then cut it in the size of a kite, after which we put in various designs,” says Gyaneshwari, their 18-year-old daughter. Explaining that it takes them four months to make the kites, she too re-iterates the importance of January for them. “For us, this month is the peak season. Lots of store owners from Gulzar House come to us to purchase kites,” she explains, adding that post the kite festival, the family takes a two month break and then starts with the Ganapathi statues.
What’s best about the market is that the excitement is just as high while shopping while playing. Says Anand, “Closer to the festival, we don’t even get the time to converse like we are doing right now; the whole place will be packed with people buying tens of kites. It’s nice to see the markets buzzing. We hope this year will be a good one.”