I can’t fly a kite. It was simply one of those things I just couldn’t master-my brain would get confused with all the intricacies of thread tugging-or simply, I wasn’t taught well. Which was how when all my countless cousins (and cousins of cousins perhaps) and the neighbourhood gang of boys accosted my terrace, the girl in the summer dress was relegated to the rather minor job of kite-guarding.
I didn’t mind. Aware that my negligible skills would undoubtedly result in a thorough and shameful defeat of all my comrades in their kite-flying (or kite-cutting) competitions with the other neighbourhood, I gracefully took up sentry duty. Besides, I could also enjoy the pleasures of kite-flying from afar.
At first, I likened it to bird-watching without the binoculars. As my co-mates ran helter-skelter on the terrace, screaming battle tactics and muttering curses in the same breath, I would sit calmly in my corner, surrounded by a little kingdom of kites, spools of thread and other paraphernalia and watch the dappled sky change color. It reminded me of those art-and-craft projects in which we cut out small strips of marble paper and glitterati to make a collage, except we invariably ended up with an overdone, ludicrous mismatch of hues (so much for abstract art) that we would display with pride, with our sticky glue-stained fingers.
The constant staring and the glare of the morning sun would hurt my eyes and render the flying kites to a blur of shades, as though some artist was trying to create this gigantic spotted canvas, but couldn’t choose the colors and kept shifting them here and there.
In between my kite-watching and my companions’ kite-flying, we shared conversations and much more. This was the only time of the year I could meet my cousins and actually talk to them (of course I saw them at weddings, uncomfortably stuffed in traditional attire but I could no more recognize them than they could recognize me) and get to know them. Over stale biscuits and the occasional fruit juice that the elders would send from downstairs, we would exchange snippets of our school days, discuss at great length “a few of our favourite things” and laugh at the snide jokes we’d make at each other. I think I was really happy in those dream-like moments that seemed to stretch on indefinitely, like a golden spool of thread. I think I was really happy because the breeze was pleasant and I had friends nearby.
I tried to fathom what exactly was it about flying paper-kites that was so endearing to them. Was it, as their fingers nimbly held the threads and their eyes gazed upwards to the crystal firmament, that they were acting out a fantasy? Pretending that the kites were the wings with which they traversed the worlds between the clouds? Was it some illusory notion of freedom that made them act the way they did, so enraptured and in the moment? Or a mere pastime they indulged in before they discovered other sports and the lure of video games?
I’ve never flown a kite, so I couldn’t say really, and in the hundreds of questions I’d badger them with, this question I somehow left unasked.
Of course, I was not completely content with my sentry duty, and occasionally I would wander around like a mischievous sprite, distracting my friends, surprising them from behind, convincing the unsuspecting to offer me the thread (and promptly have the kite tumble from the sky like a falling bird), hide their favourite kites and blame it on someone else and in general, disrupt their proceedings and then giggle shamelessly.
When the most patient and forgiving of the lot passed judgement that a kite in my hands would never reach the sky, they took to teaching me the sacred art of kite-making. This was surprisingly easier, albeit my handcrafted kites were more decorative than functional. Still it was a pleasure, to sit with scissors and snip snip the papers to the desired diamond shapes, fold them at the right places, stick the sticks properly and sometimes add a colourful tail and a painted beak to make it look like a bird, or in some extreme cases, a dragon.
Another aspect of the day was the kite-retrieval-scouting every nook and cranny of my vast rooftop and scanning the branches of the trees of my garden for fallen kites and collecting them together like trophies from a game. On the days that would follow, when my terrace return to its usual loneliness, I would go back and gather all the littered left-over kites-some destroyed, some injured and some perfect-gather them together and separate the good ones from the rest, for next year’s festivities.
Gradually, the number of kite-flying enthusiasts who would come over, dwindled and decreased while my pile of accumulated treasures reached new heights. I gave some away, saving the best for those special people who’d come to my terrace but never came, and in the end I took to decorating some of the bare walls of my house with those kites.
Perhaps I miss those days more than I’d like to admit and to make up for it, my mother took me to other places on that day, to wide kite-flying grounds where possibly a thousand people flew kites with precision, or to exhibitions which showcased the most exquisitely crafted kites that would put all my artistic efforts to shame. We would meet different people there, share bits of conversation and memories and learn some new things in the process.
But on the days after, I still lurk in the terrace, in a different summer dress, searching for fallen kites and gathering them close to my heart, like broken pieces of childhood.
(This was previously published in Voices,The Statesman)