Mansoor Bagwan, the owner of Bahar Kite Centre that stands in Bohri Lane for over four decades now, recalls why he stopped selling nylon manja over two years ago. It was just before Makar Sankranti when police raided his shop — following a ban on the sale of manja by the Bombay High Court — and found a few bundles of nylon strings in the mezzanine floor that he says were not for sale and had been lying for months.
The police took him and three other sellers from the area to the police station. After “preliminary investigation”, two others were allowed to go but Bagwan and the owner of another stall — Siraj Patang Depot — were booked for illegal sale of nylon manja. “Since then, I have not sold nylon manja although, it has taken half my business away. Even after all this time, I have to go to court for hearing. It has become a pain for my family,” said Bagwan.
He claimed that although traditional shopowners have stopped selling nylon manja (or Chinese or synthetic manja as it is often called), in the outskirts, small vendors continue to peddle it illegally. “It is easily available and kids prefer it because it is much cheaper than cotton strings. It is sold at almost half the price of cotton manja. Since we only sell cotton strings, children buy kites or phirki from us and then go on to buy manja from others who sell surreptitiously at a much cheaper rate,” he says.
The narrow lanes off Bohri Ali in Ravivar Peth hosts four of the oldest kite shops in the city. Soon after the news of Mujumdar’s death broke, police inspected some of the stalls to check if they were selling nylon manja. “They came and checked. It turned out to be cotton ones from the way it snapped easily,” said a shopkeeper at Siraj Patang Depot. “They advised us not to sell nylon strings and went.”
While cotton manja that costs around Rs 4,000 for a spool of 5000 metre comes to Pune markets from Surat Nylon strings come much cheaper and are comparatively tougher, hence preferred by those who fly kites.
“Nylon manja is priced at Rs 600 a kg (about 10,000 metres). Since it is comparatively cheaper, it is in demand and is chosen by kite enthusiasts over cotton threads,” said Muzaffar Syed of Kazi Patang Depot.
Sellers lament that the ban on selling synthetic manja has taken away a lot of their business. “Almost 70-80 per cent buyers prefer synthetic manja. They don’t want cotton manja. Chinese manja comes to Pune from Mumbai mostly and is sold surreptitiously due to high demand among kite fliers,” said one of the shopkeepers added that if the government is serious about curbing the use of synthetic manja, it should stop the manufacturing, which happens in factories in Noida and Bangalore.
According to Syed, Mujumdar’s death must be first such incident in the city. “We had heard about birds getting entangled in the strings or sometimes getting injured. It has also happened that people have got injuries after coming in contact with manja while riding bikes. But this is for the first time, as far as I know, that a person in Pune has lost her life due to the injury. It is a terrible news,” he said.
62-year-old Ranganath Bhujbal, a resident of Kalewadi, who was grievously injured in a similar incident last month feels that the ban on synthetic manja has to be strictly observed.
“I received deep cuts on my thumb when I tried to disentangle manja, which was tugging on my neck as some children were pulling it. I received two stitches on the neck and six on my thumb. The thumb is yet to recover,” Bhujbal told Pune Newsline.
Bhujbal, a retired teacher, had registered a police complaint after the incident. But he is not too hopeful about action. “Even after my complaint, the police just visited by home but nothing else happened. I see people are still selling manja on the roadside and in shops. Had my neck injuries been as deep as on my thumb, I would have met the same fate as the woman who died,” Bhujbal said.