Patang Fever - For the Love Of Kites

May 15, 2008
Harold Bergsma

Two annas! I clutched the strangely shaped squared cupro-nickel coin in my hand as I stared at the display. Noab Din our cook held my other hand and pointed first at one, then another marvel, each a different color of paper, each slightly different depending on the whims of the kite makers.

I glanced up when I heard the rattling snarl of paper being buffeted by the breeze. Above my head, four kites flew; their strings invisible to me. It seemed that each had a life of its own swooping and descending with dizzying speed only to magically turn and climb into the sky again. Then one kite, a large green one, no longer flew but fell with swooping, sickening arches and caught by the wind was carried away. Under it a horde of children ran, shouting and pushing each other, eager to be the one to catch the falling treasure. I watched as the kite neared the earth, only to be snared by electric lines. Now it hung sadly out of the reach of the children beneath it. Instead of trying to retrieve it they picked up stones and pebbles and threw them at the paper, shouting each time a stone tore the green gauze.

"I will take the red and white one." I pointed at a medium-sized beauty. "I will need a spool and lots of line covered with ground glass." I looked confident.
"Watch out. Wait until you learn to fly well before you try the glass covered line. You can easily cut your fingers, and then I will be in trouble with mem-sahib."

Childhood memories make us what we are.

What greater joy is there than to stand on the roof of your house and hold a line tied to a soaring kite above you? Basant! What joy. The breeze was good on this January day and it took my kite joyfully aloft. I let out the string too quickly and the kite twirled and sagged, then plummeted toward the earth. As soon as I stopped the reel from spinning the kite again reared upward. It was an early lesson; one can't rush joy and love. Now I let out the string more slowly, hoping to get my kite higher than all my neighbors.

Patrus, my friend stood next to me giving instructions. "Not so high. Others will not like it and cut you down."

Hardly had he spoken when a white, small kite moved toward mine and crossed my string and in a flash my kite was floundering in the sky.

"Bo kata! Patang kat gayi!" The children screamed and began their chase after my descending shame.

I stood dejectedly holding limp string and a spool almost empty. I began to wind up the string, feeling violated, cheated of my glory. "I will buy another and get glass on my string. I will come back and cut that white one down!" There were tears in my eyes.

Basant! Spring in the Punjab. Kite glory in Lahore and kite madness in Taxila.

Maryam Arif's comments in Pakistan Paindabad, (March 26, 2007) "Kat Gayi, Kat Gayi, Patang Kat Gayi" were wonderful to read. I can see her standing on a Lahore rooftop in the evening, holding a kite string and reveling in the joy of being shoulder to shoulder with the male members of her household experiencing the fun of the Basant festival. She asks, "Who owns this festival?" Good question. Perhaps before Partition such a question would never be asked, because Lahore, the city of delights was in and of India. But what about now?

Where did all this high flying madness begin? Who has the ownership rights? Is this a purely Punjabi exercise? Did India fly kites before 1947? Why are conservative Islamists in Pakistan opposed to the fun of kite flying to celebrate the coming of spring?

It was not madness that began it. There was a General Han Hsin in the Han Dynasty in China who, according to written records, flew a kite in 200 B.C. They had lots of bamboo, string and of course, fine silk cloth that was light and strong. Written records show that this Chinese cultural phenomenon was adopted by others over a period of time and kite flying, particularly in the spring was a custom that migrated to Japan, Korea, Burma and eventually to India.

India really picked up on it and incorporated kite flying during Basant into their Hindu religious festivals. Basant was a time to honor deities, wear yellow clothing, eat yellow colored candies and fly kites that would soar high, lift spirits, give even the common poor man a chance to celebrate and have sky fun for a few paisa. Any kind of tamasha was a mechanism to forget for a brief time the drudgery, boredom and pain of living in poverty. Fun! How else could it be put?

"Fun is wrong!" Can you hear the mullahs shouting in Lahore about banning Basant, banning the flying of kites which leads one away from the important and serious considerations of service to Allah, leading Muslims away to the new-found secular freedoms of pagan and Hindu origin, leading young women to hold a string on a kite in Lahore and laugh and shout for joy?

There is a lovely expression we used to use in Michigan. "Oh, go fly a kite!" When a person became too heavy, too dogmatic and would not listen to reason, we would say it. Very interesting! The very act of flying a kite moves one into a new realm, away from the seriousness of one's own arguments and philosophy to feel the tug on the string, hear the rattle of paper as the wind buffets the surface of the kite. There is another use of the expression of kite flying. "Come fly a kite with me!" This was written on a greeting card that lovers could send to each other. The image is beautiful, uplifting and wonderfully sensual, two kites flying side by side, each responding to the winds of love, uncontrollable invisible currents that move their colorful displays.

Harold Bergsma has published widely in professional journals, and novels. In 2007, One Way To Pakistan was published and in April of 2007 was awarded the Indie Excellence Award for Multicultural Fiction.
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May 15, 2008
04:04 PM

another fine trip down memoryville harold:)

the maanJha that cuts deep into the fingers as one indulges in "kite fights" in the sky

the shouts of "bo kata"

the disappointment over losing your kite

such is the stuff!


down by the lake here i find kite fliers ... but these kites are bigger and cumbersome...not as maneuverable as the desi ones

May 16, 2008
04:36 AM

Harold, you should go see that movie, The Kite Runner.

Anyhow, if you want to see a man loves kites enough to become one, then take a look at this:


His name is Yves Rossy, and he's a Swiss pilot who longs to fly like kites and birds. He's all over the news right now, because of his latest amazing flight.

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