The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Kites still tug at my heart strings


See how you crowds of gazing people
Admire my flight above the steeple
How would they wonder if they knew
All that a kite like me can do?

Were I but free, I’d take a flight
And pierce the clouds beyond their sight
But, ah! like a Poor Prisoner bound
My string confines me near the ground
John  Newton

During  July when the second term school vacations draw near, Sri Lanka’s blue skies are dotted with kites of every hue and shape. As if by decree, around these times the kites arrive in their kaleidoscopic colours to adorn every beach, park or open area. I can only visualize what joy it may give the children in the North and East of the island, who were deprived of the recreation of flying kites, partly due to the scarcity of material, as well as the limitations placed by the security situation of the 30-year conflict. Hope their fathers still remember the fine art of making a kite.

A school kite competition (file pic) : The winds of change have swept away many childhood recreations but not kite flying

Since my childhood I have often contemplated why all this happens only in July/ August. Why can’t someone fly a kite in December or January? Perhaps during July and August the upward thrust created by turbulent monsoon winds gives a conducive boost for the kites to soar. Another question which still baffles me, is why girls are not interested in kites? May be for the same reason that boys are not interested in dolls.
Only parents who have sons would know the elaborate preparations for the kite season, start well before the school vacation. Plans are made maybe two weeks before as to what sort of kite to make and what colour combination to use.The popular designs are the peacock, cobra, bat, box shape, etc.

The Union Jack is the most popular colour scheme as it looks a real eyeful in its blue, red and white splendour when in flight. A few weeks before the school vacations begin, the contagious ‘kite fever’ is seen catching up with the young and sometimes old kite aficionados.
To make a kite, one needs that special light weight paper, thread and sticks of rattan or bamboo. The first two items could be purchased from the shops while the bamboo has to be got from thickets and swamps where they grow. Fetching these sticks is itself an adventure. These reeds generally grow away from residential areas bordering swamps or paddy fields, that are sometimes snake infested. While fetching the sticks, kids would help themselves to the bounty of fruits like, guava, mango, bovitiya, himbutu, and wild berries like dham (pronounced like plum). I remember  having a nasty experience with a runaway bull  when we entered its domain with some friends in search of bamboo. Those days mobile phones were unheard of and no one bothered about boys being boys.

But now like most things in life, kites too have become commercialised. One can buy kites from the wayside stalls that have sprung up to cater to the seasonal kite fever. Few parents have the time and patience any longer to make a kite and therefore would opt to purchase one. Kite vendors too have risen to the occasion with some novel kites, some with catchy slogans too. The other day I saw a kite for sale near the Moratuwa stadium, with the words ‘I love Mom’. Now which Mum or Dad could resist that?
However the kite so bought robs the kids of a home made kite which can boast of a longer alliance that was spawned many weeks prior to the holidays. This kite which they have acquired just a few hours ago, after having fulfilled their need is very often abandoned or gifted to a street child. Kids have no qualms about leaving this kite to the elements, for they know by next season, their father would buy another kite.
Be that as it may, when most of the joys of our childhood recreations have vanished into the sands of time, the kite still adorns the skies like a breath of fresh air in July and August, getting smarter and smarter with new material like vinyl, plastic and ultra light weight aluminium frames etc.

The younger generation has also invented more adrenalin-rich events like Kite Surfing, a hybrid water sport of kiting and surfing that requires adequate training with gymnastic skills to harness the power of  the ocean and wind. Here you hang from a kite to surf the ocean and glide like a bird. On July 1, 61-year-old Virgin entrepreneur, Sir Richard Branson, his son Sam, his cousins and friends set sail with their kites from Wimmereux, a northern town in France and attempted to cross the English Channel to land in England and break the  existing record of 2 hours and 30 minutes. Finally Sir Richard had to abandon his effort as his kite was too small. But his son set a new record landing on English soil in 2 hours and 18 minutes. In Sri Lanka too there will be a Kite Surfing competition in the Kalpitiya beach during the second weekend of July. No doubt this will pick up in other beaches like Hikkaduwa, Bentota, Hambanthota and Galle Face, attracting many overseas competitors.
So for the time being, we can rest assured that we will not have to ask ‘Where have all the kites gone?’

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