HomeFeaturesKite Flying: From cultural festival to deadly sport

Kite Flying: From cultural festival to deadly sport

Muhammad Naeem Khan Niazi

LAHORE, Apr 26 (APP): Kite flying is a celebration of the spring season (Basant) which marks the benevolent intervening period between the receding winter and the advancing summer. Once a solace to hearts, kite-flying has turned into a scourge due to human deaths caused by the use of multi-layered heavy string (foreign twine) coated in synthetic materials over the past decades.

Kite flying (commonly known as Patang Bazi) is held between the second and fourth week of February every year. With the advent of February, a new life is breathed into the world of nature and the impact on the physical world is perceptible in many ways. Be it the mating of birds, sprouting of new vegetation in the mustard fields or human yearning for sport and festivity, the month of February liberate the spirit and kite flying is its expression.

Kite flying, once celebrated as a festive occasion, had all the ingredients of a festival with a family reunion, music, dance on drum beat, old rivalries on kite battles and traditional food. It provided the human soul the occasion to welcome the warmth in nature and human relationships. Lahore, Gujranwala and Kasur were once considered centers of kite flying while the preparations started months in advance as people got hold of the best ‘daur’ or ‘manjha’ (abrasive twine) and hordes of kites. The ‘daur’ or ‘manjha’ is a cotton thread coated with crushed glass materials to make it slash other twine.

The kite-flying festivities usually began at night under lights on the roof-tops and continued till the next sunset. Paper kites of different hues and colors enveloped the horizon while the deafening music was in consonance with the heated emotions of the kite flyers. The slaying of opponent’s twine was celebrated with trumpets, flutes and ‘dhol’ while some fierce rivalries in kite flying battles ensued for decades.

The streets had serious hustle and bustle as kite runners followed the tumbling kites. Women, in complete unison with the yellow flowers of the mustard fields in rural Punjab, dressed in yellow, the men clad in white and children in glittering attires got together at the roof-tops to see the kite battles as the skies resonated with chants of ‘Bo-Kata’ (hacked) after rival’s kite is culled in the sky battle with skill and endurance.

Kite flying is a sport and an art as well which has produced multifarious apprentices and masters over the years and its practitioners are found in all parts of the world. Kite flying is not about mere tossing the paper kite in the air and consigning it to the wind to decide its destiny but it is about dexterity, skill and ken which helps a kite flyer browbeat the opponents through masterful handling of the kite in the sky. A skillful kite flyer may cut the twine of the opponent in one masterful stroke of his finger and send his supporters into ecstasy.

Unfortunately, kite flying, being a popular sport in other parts of the world as well, embraced foreign influence and its practitioners succumbed to the use of foreign twine (multi-layered heavy string) coated in synthetic materials.
The foreign twine is made up of braided polyester as it suited the high-velocity winds in some of the beach countries while it is detrimental to the sport and life in this part of the world. The unusual strength of the foreign twine could cause fatal injuries as it could easily cut through human or animal bone and flesh.

By the last decade of the 20th century, fatalities among children, youth and elderly due to the foreign kite string rose with every passing year and so ascended the public outcry against the sport which was turning deadly.
The Punjab government was forced to introduce the Punjab Prohibition of Dangerous Kite Flying Activities Ordinance in 2001 and subsequently imposed a blanket ban on kite flying in 2009 after it failed to sensitize the public and control the supply of deadly kite string.

Despite the legislation and ban, thousands of lives have been lost and the number is rising with each passing year. The death of motorcyclist Asif Shafiq (22) in Faisalabad, and another in Islamabad last month are a rude awakening to the throat-slitting by kite string of Aftab Ahmed (30), a lecturer in Chemistry at Dayal Singh College, Lahore some three years back. The police unleashed a relentless crackdown against illegal kite-flying and made 2770 arrests besides recovering 310464 kites under the Anti-Kite Flying Act. Chief Minister Punjab Maryam Nawaz Sharif ordered a zero-tolerance policy against the use of lethal kite strings and violations.

Today, there remains only a skeleton of the festivity called kite flying with sporadic illegal kite flying practice snubbed with an iron hand by the law enforcers in the province.

Historian Fakir Syed Aijazuddin, said kite-flying was a cultural identity that must be protected from extinction. He, however, said the use of illegal kite string needs to be checked through major penalties. He proposed open spaces like the Greater Iqbal Park and the peripheral city areas should be dedicated to the kite flying festivity.

Dr. Azhar Iqbal alias Billa, a renowned kite flyer from Lahore proposed that the government should allow the sale of 9 cord twine only which could lift a maximum weight of half kilogram and ban the production and sale of double-braided kite string to avoid it turning into a deadly sport.

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