His eyes would turn red, but he wouldn’t give up. Pounding pieces of old filament bulbs and bottles, with mortar and pestle, was no easy task. Once the glass was reduced to a fine powder it was mixed with glue and pigment to prepare the killer ‘Manja’, a coating that makes the kite line sharp like a knife.
When I was still in school, a random kite falling from the sky like an aimless teenager, had the capacity to stir life in any docile lane. Age would lose its meaning when people seekers would then run in excitement to catch the prize while the kite drifted out of reach akin a potential girlfriend.
Exactly the way Khaled Hosseini has mentioned in his book ‘The Kite Runner’, kite flying competitions in our locality were indeed a battle. I remember my friend’s brother Shantanu da saving their allowances in a rust red “Gullak”, a piggy bank, that had a lovely carved border. He wouldn’t let anybody touch it, but would jubilantly break it few days before Vishwakarma Puja. He would then order kites as per his requirement of size, shape, and color and would pay a visit to some of the famous kite sellers of Kolkata with his uncle. Manza prepared meticulously were then applied to the string and dried before tying them onto the kites.
Though the tradition of kite flying actually originated in China and was used to exchange messages during wars, it later became a popular sport. And when Wajid Ali Shah, Nawab of Awadh indulged in this sport, it became a favorite of Bengal. And now it has become so much a part of the Bengali culture during Vishwakarma Puja that even celebrities could be seen emerging at their terraces to take part in the para kite fight.
Mornings would start with the worship of the celestial architect, seeking his blessings for the smooth running of tools after days of thorough cleaning of the machines and the workplace. Up on the terrace, the teams would then take their position in the battle field. The euphoria had such an effect that even kids like me who had no inclination towards any sport whatsoever, other than Ludo, Snakes & Ladders and Chinese Checker, would find myself holding a Latai, the string pool.
“It’s an amazing feeling when you tug on the string through your fingers as the wind drives the kite in the sky. Pulling and letting it go is one tricky affair and when the opponent’s string gets cut, the feeling of achievement is unparalleled” A para uncle once told me while examining the positions of the hole he had made to tie the strings onto his kite.
The festival, however, held a different meaning to me. It meant getting a chance to visit the terrace. God knows what treasure our land lady, whom the entire locality called ‘Mashima’, protected with a fat green lock. While we could only see on top of her ancestral house was a large Tulsi plant and a few wooden planks piled at one corner protecting a cockroach colony. Nevertheless, this day of the year saw a more motherly, child-friendly side of hers. She would fling open the gates of her much coveted top floor, primarily because his own son was crazy about kites. The bone dry warm concrete floor never failed to welcome us to a world washed with sunlight, cool breeze, and freshness. I would rush in no time to reach out to the railings despite my mother’s warnings. The world looked amazingly in control from the top. As if you are suddenly handed the threads of all that lay below and like a toy land you had all the power to rearrange the houses, lanes, trees, and parks.
I wasn’t tall enough. Hence I would grapple myself up the railing by placing my foot on the raised concrete moldings. Grains of sand grazed my tiny hands as I would put pressure to have a better grip. Even my knees would get bruised sometimes, but I seldom cared. The view was a compensation enough for all the hardships.
An array of beautiful flowering plants that bordered a big attic also took to my fascination. The collection was not only colorful and well maintained but some of them were rare to me. The yellow evening flower, the orange jungle flame, the purple passion, the peach oleander and my favorite bougainvillea used to invite me towards them. But touching wasn’t a preferred option as our land lady’s son would always be found guarding them like a scarecrow.
Just beyond the brown mud pots was the attic with a huge book self. The book lover in me would wriggle in delight to step inside the room and lay my greedy hands on them, but alas. As per Mashima, the books belonged to one of her intellectual brother-in-law who worked in some other state, whom we never saw. And since he was very particular about his books and other belongings kept there, it was kept under lock and key all the time. That would leave me peeking through the big glass windows and squinting my eyes to adjust the light entering my eyes. Touching the fat books with my glance I would then enter an imaginary life where I would have a terrace study all by myself and would not let any elder enter it despite pleadings.
However soon, the shouts of “dhil de dhil de”, loosen the string, ‘tan tan’, pull the string and ‘Bhoo Katta’, a scream of joy on winning would distract me from my fantasies. Most seniors who probably never did more than holding a Latai in their youth would turn into self-proclaimed mentors, roaming around distributing free bits of advice that nobody seemed to be interested in. The frenzy lasted for few more days. The evening would see a number of kites dangling merrily from the trees, embracing the lamp posts, clutching the antenna rod for its dear life and adoring the electric lines, tempting kids to climb and pull. The kites were then repaired sticking patches, ready for the next day flight. The sky would again be seen dotted with different types of kites like “Petkatti” and “Mayurpankhi”, some long, some with figurines of their characters on it and some with multiple tails. Watching the tails go up swaying I would gaze at the blue yonder and wonder if it was possible to fly up to the clouds holding their ends.
Hope this year Viswakarma Puja brings back the golden memories of those days when little pleasures of life weren’t yet hijacked by the race of life and brings innumerous smiles on your faces.
Happy Vishwakarma Puja !