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Thursday, October 28, 2010

The games in the sky

At some point, I became fascinated by a the sight of a fluttering kite against Chennai's cloudless blue skies. All the kite flying around our apartment was done by the boys in the slum nearby. It was very entertaining to watch them at it and I must have watched them a lot - I do have so many memories.

They didn't require much to make a kite - a couple of long twigs from a broomstick, a light polythene cover and some string. While the first two ingredients were available in plenty to them, the last one needed much more care. That was the first time I heard the word 'Maanja'.

A bunch of boys would be huddled around an old paint can containing an evil mixture. This strange concoction was said to contain everything from glue to ground glass pieces. At least three people were needed for the work - at least five more stood around watching and providing advice. One boy would deal out plain string from a spool, the second would help it pass through and get coated with the mixture in the paint can, the third would wrap the coated string back on to another spool. Once dried, the string would be a deadly weapon attached to the kites. It wasn't a matter of flying the kites - it was a matter of pulling down others' kites while not losing your own and the string greatly helped there.

Making the kite itself was a much quicker process - A square piece of light polythene bag would be cut out, a couple of coconut leaf twigs would be make the frame around which the polythene was held taut and the much-fussed-over string would be attached. It was all done in a jiffy and such a joy to watch!

The kite fliers chose their location with care and the games started in the sky. One person would come out to fly his kite and his lone kite would be joined by three or four others pretty soon. The ones who wanted to save their kites quickly left and the rest fought to cut the others' string - the power of each 'Maanja' coated string would become apparent here. Most of the trees and the TV antennas in the area had broken kites tangled up in them. Some people managed to rescue their kites and sometimes a random stranger would be lucky to have a kite drop out of the sky into his hands.

Since I never had such luck, I decided to make my own kite. Perhaps, I hadn't studied the process much then and I had no idea how to make one. So, what does a girl do when she wants to make a kite - she goes running to Dad, of course. Soon enough, Dad and I sat on the floor with newspapers, twigs, string and gum strewn all over the place. We didn't just make a kite - we engineered it. :D The shape was perfect, the frame was solid and we were pretty pleased with ourselves by the time we were done. The kite was left to dry overnight and the next day we set out triumphantly to the terrace to fly our masterpiece.

I held the kite and stood some distance away from dad, who held the string. There was a strong gust of wind and I let go of the kite, pushing it up as much as I could. Strangely, it refused to stay up in the breeze and fell back. We tried again. And again. And again. It was quite puzzling. Finally we gave up and went home, defeated. The kite stayed on my table for a few months, gathering dust till Mum probably threw it away. Much later, I realized that we had made 'too solid' a kite and used too much gum, string and paper in our enthusiastic efforts. It was just too heavy to fly!

Outside, the boys continued to fly their polythene bag kites. 'Manja' ruled the skies, I watched them with interest but I never tried making a kite again.

1 comment:

K Praveen said...

I've always been quite wary of Maanja kites, especially while riding the bike. It could slit the throat just like that.