The bonny blue sky is dotted with colours — blue, green, yellow, black, white, name it and you have it; and these colours are splattered in varied shapes and sizes, as victorious shouts of “kai po che (I have cut)” ring clear on the Sabarmati riverfront.
It may be officially winter, but it feels more like spring in Ahmedabad as the floral world of colours seems to have overturned onto the sky as kites. The 27th edition of the International Kite Festival (IKF) kicked off in the Gujarat capital on January 10, and the city — along with its skies — is doused in kites of paper, plastic, cloth and various other materials. The 3km stretch on the Sabarmati riverfront is lit up in saffron-white-green of the Indian national flag for the annual event, and thousands of people from across the globe have come over to witness the city’s biggest and most-awaited festival.
Inaugurated by Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, the annual festival is organised around ‘Uttrayan’ or ‘Makar Sakranti’, which is celebrated with a lot of fervor on January 13-14. This year, the festival has been expanded to include 13 different towns and cities in order to make the festival more holistic, says Kamleshbhai Patel, Chairman, Gujarat Tourism, at the opening event. Organised since 1989, the festival has helped put Gujarat on the map for many kite flyers across the world, helping to build the state’s tourism as well. But it was only post-2002 — after then CM Narendra Modi gave it a push — that the festival really took off.
This year, there are 30 participating countries and seven Indian states exhibiting and flying the most extraordinary kites that are sure to make your eyes pop — a dragon, an octopus, a huge dolphin, even a caterpillar. It’s intriguing that only seven states of the host country have participated where kite-flying is a tradition. “We had sent out invitations to 27 states but we can’t control who decides to participate,” said N Srivastava, Managing Director, Gujarat Tourism.
Walking across the riverfront, it’s interesting to see adults indulging in an activity that is otherwise passed-off as child’s play. The seriousness of — and towards — the ‘sport’, if it may be called that, comes out especially when talking to the international participants. For them, a serendipitous Google discovery or a mention from a friend turned into a life-changing experience. Otherwise professionals and businessmen, many have travelled thousands of kilometres just to fly kites in the Gujarati skies this time. They make their own kites and for IKF, some of them have made a few special ones.
The kites are mostly made using ripstop nylon which is not a commonly used material in India because of its high price. Kite-making is also a collaborative process, with many of them often getting in touch with their Indian counterparts interacting and sharing ideas. One such person is from the US, Philip Broder. He says, there are occasional kite-making workshops in the US for enthusiasts who take their creations to beach and fly them when the wind is favourable. “People think we’re crazy because they believe kites are for children,” says the third-time IKF participant. “We don’t fly as good as Indians but we try to.”
Each participating country has a stall, and right outside Turkey, it’s impossible to miss a huge hexagon-shaped kite with Mahatma Gandhi’s smiling face on it. Hurray, a Turkish participant from the Seagull Kite Club, talks about how, to him, India is synonymous with Gandhi, and the kite was a tribute to Gandhi and the lifestyle he continues to inspire. “We made this club 15 years ago after a friend discovered the concept of kite flying on Google. It just seemed so interesting. Now we even teach children how to make them, the idea is growing,” he says.
Maarten from the Netherlands, who has come with his daughter, makes kites every day back home. “Everyday when I come back from work and want to relax, I get onto my sewing machine and start making kites and I have been doing this for the last 26 years ago,” he says. He travels for kite festivals all around the world, to China, Thailand, Korea but India remains his favourite. “There are so many people enthusiastic about flying kites here. There is absolutely no one like Indians,” says Maarten who is on his 11th trip to India and confesses that in the Netherlands, he hardly gets to fly kites.
Among Indians, it’s astounding to see the variety of kites on display. Inside the Tamil Nadu kiosk, standard sized kites painted with facial features of goddesses; Gujarat’s kites has Prime Minister Narendra Modi on them and many Indian kites donned the colours of Indian flag.
Chandigarh-based Dr Devender Pal Singh is Assistant Director at the Chandigarh Forensic Lab but by making the kind of kites he makes, it’s evident that his passion lies here. His paper kites have social messages written and pasted on them. “With the help of this medium, I would like to educate people about social evils such as female foeticide, dowry, narcotics, which are Punjab’s biggest problems right now. Also, to encourage people to fly kites because of health reasons,” says Pal.
Ahmedabad-resident Gopal Patel’s kite is one of the most talked about kite at IKF this year. A huge doughnut-like kite — originally called spinner kite — is making its way as one of the most prominent ones because of its sheer size. Patel and team have earned the name in Limca Book of Records for the same. The most interesting feature about Patel, who is an IKF veteran with 20 years wound on his spool, is a big toy spider strapped on to his back at all times. “It’s a part of my identity. Everywhere I goes, people should notice me and my work,” he says. Patel takes pride in the fact that his was the first kite club in India to make inflatable (frameless) kites, which he has continued to make since the past six years.
Till January 14 — the last day of the festival — Gujarat’s skies will be colourful. The three words — “Kai Po Che” — will be heard everywhere, followed by whoops and children dashing off to collect the kites that get cut. Imagine a young Hassan (from Khaleid Hosseini’s The Kite Runner), dashing off with purpose knowing exactly where the kite will land and the jubilation thereafter. For a week, that sense of child-like glee as even the most random stranger stands witness to the friendly colourful battles in the sky is what will envelope every part of Ahmedabad, and that’s exactly the sentiment this annual festival is all about.