Flying Kites and Dogfights
- Flying Kites and Dogfights
“But, Mummy, the old man says this is the strongest maanjha (kite-flying twine).”
Mummy smiles at seven-year-old Sudhir’s words and shakes her head. Then with a frown, she repeats, “No, it is not. This is kacha dhaga (raggedy weak thread) quite useless. You better go return it.” And hands the spool back to Sudhir, who gives her a quizzical look, not believing her.
Discouraged, Sudhir goes off to return it. The shop is at the corner of the street behind the house and is not too far for him to get lost. He is on a mission, and with no maanjha, he will never be able to fly his kite. He rejects the thought and ignores a couple of friends who invite him to a game of marbles. And in a surge of optimism, Sudhir rushes back into the throes of kite-flying fever.
Pretty soon, Sudhir returns triumphant with the same spool of thread!
Mummy asks, “Why have you brought it back.”
Sudhir responds, “The old man said Ooy, uluya, eh tan sab to pakha maanjha weh (you fool, this is the strongest maanjha there is).”
Mummy controls her laughter, and it all bursts out when Daddy gets home. With a broad smile, Daddy takes Sudhir by the hand, and both head back to the shop to buy really good strong maanjha.
On the way, Daddy makes excuses to Sudhir for the old man. “He must have thought you are a little boy and did not show you his real good maanjha.” Daddy asks the old man for his best maanjha. This time about ten big spools of all colors appear from the back of the shop! Not a word from the wide-eyed Sudhir! He is in complete awe of the conversation—merits and drawbacks of the various maanjhas—stuff he has never heard! After a few more minutes of discussion, Daddy buys a couple of spindles of maanjha and thanks the old man.
Sudhir can hardly contain himself as he skips all the way back home. Not only does he have the best maanjha, but there was also no mention of the kacha dhaaga. Plain and simple, Daddy can work wonders! Spring is in the air, and visions of colorful kites and trailing tails crowding the skies propel Sudhir home.
For the next couple of weeks, we spend evenings and weekends preparing for the kite-flying season ahead. Winter months are ending, evenings are getting longer and warmer, and we go shopping for kites. Baisakhi (Spring festival) is coming, and kites of all shapes and colors galore in the bazaar. Daddy advises – small and medium-sized kites paired with the strongest maanjha are great for dogfights. Large, magnificent kites with long arrogant tails are a sight to behold! A visual delight! With lots of wah-wahs (oohs and aahs)!
At home, we thread the kites with the maanjha. Daddy shows us where and how to make the pin-pricks, thread the maanjha, and check the balance of the kite. And what if the kite is off-kilter? How do we restore balance? Applying patches is not only for tares—no point discarding an otherwise beautiful kite. The patches require extra care, using warm bechamel-like, home-made glue, ‘lavi“, which Mummy fixes after much nagging. Bits of paper are glued, and the kite is rebalanced. Daddy centers the kite on the left-hand index finger and checks and rechecks to see if the patches have indeed balanced the kite. If it wobbles, we study and discuss where tiny bits of additional patches are needed to restore balance. It is an intricate art, and Daddy is a patient teacher.
The next point of detail is the tail. We attach long, thin strips of colorful tissue paper at the lower corner of the kite. Its length is long enough for a proud flutter in the breeze to establish superiority in the sky. And Daddy cautions, it should not be so long it hampers a quick ascent, or so heavy it dashes to the ground on descent. Sudhir is all rapt, hanging on to each word Daddy utters. I’m sorry, but me? Not so much. All this getting-ready stuff is taking way too long!
And getting one kite ready to go is not enough! A good evening of kite flying requires at least three or four kites. Who knows when a kite will lose out in a dogfight? It is heartbreaking to watch it sail away on a meandrous path to descend into unknown territory. Even if there are no dogfights, the monotony of flying a single kite the entire evening is no fun. So, we repeat the ritual a few times until a satisfactory number of kites are ready to take over the skies. Remember, Baisakhi is around the corner! We need to be stocked for an entire day of flying kites.
Storing these lightweight, fragile contraptions of square-shaped multicolored tissue paper glued to a framework of small straight and bent broom sticks is tricky. Stored flat, not hung, Along with the kites, come bulky spindles of maanjha. Mummy helps find a flat space on a guest bed and covers the kites with a light blanket. Sudhir appoints himself guardian of the bed. Mummy reorganizes Sudhir’s toy shelves and makes space for the spindles. Prized possessions, kites, and spindles are treasured as much as the marbles in the gangajali. These sit untouched in a far corner of the lower shelf. Mummy is not allowed to store them elsewhere or use the vessel for its original purpose.
Needless to say, it’s a delightful surprise for Sudhir and me to learn Daddy is so keen on kite-flying. Like sponges, we soak up Daddy’s knowledge, skill, and subtleties of the art.
Sudhir is also picking up lots of pointers from his friends, especially from our older cousin, Nalin. Nalin, about five years older than Sudhir and quite a bit taller, has Sudhir literary looking up to him and appreciates his expertise. Nalin is more advanced in kite-flying than Sudhir and me. He has his own circle of friends, all older boys. However, he mentions to Sudhir how he will make his maanjha stronger than the store-bought one. His technique involves powdered glass and a couple of beaten eggs. Sudhir and I exchange intuitive looks and know this has to be a hush-hush operation. Mummy will be home during its execution, but she will be busy and won’t bother us. Nalin’s presence as the older, more responsible (ha-ha-ha!) person is good.
So we start. First order of business is to unwind the entire maanjha off the spindle. Sudhir and I work together and stretch the maanjha from one end of the verandah to the other, back and forth. We are Nalin’s gophers, ready to do his bidding and fetch whatever he needs. Nalin dips a rag in the beaten egg and places it on a thick pad of layered newspapers held on the flat of his palm. He sprinkles a small amount of powdered glass on the egg-soaked rag. Next, he grabs the maanjha embedding it in the rag and wrapping his fingers around the layers of newspaper, rag, and glass. Nalin now takes a slow walk along the entire length of the maanjha back and forth. He stops a few times to moisten the rag with more egg and replenish the powdered glass. We wait for the egg to dry and the powdered glass to adhere to the maanjha. Sudhir and I remove all evidence of the operation at Nalin’s bidding.
Did I mention the silent secrecy of this act? Daddy is at work, and Mummy is busy in the house. She thinks we cannot get into too much trouble with big brother Nalin watching us.
When Daddy learns of our new-found skill, his frown is frightening. He is angry and admonishes us never to handle powdered glass ever again.
Sudhir blurts out, “But, Daddy. Our maanjha can now slice the opponent’s maanjha almost on contact.”
Daddy pauses, takes a deep breath, and says, “Maybe.” And with an intensely serious look, he asks Sudhir, “What do you think it can do to our fingers and palms? Are we going to wear gloves to fly kites now?”
I laugh out loud while Sudhir ponders and says, “No, gloves will hamper our control.”
Daddy smirks a little and says, “That’s right, and it will make our fingers and palms bleed as well.”
Both of us gasp and stare at Daddy—we had never thought of that! This sounds worse than paper cuts! Well! It goes without saying this is our first and last brush with powdered glass. It is also the first and last time for Nalin to handle powdered glass as well. Daddy must have had a word with his older sister, Nalin’s Mom!