Experience 15: Kite fighting in Jaipur

by Oliver Smith
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In most parts of the world kite flying is a peaceful, thoughtful activity. Fly your kite in Jaipur, however, and chances are it won’t be long before someone cuts it to shreds and chuckles as you blubber over its tattered remains. But this isn’t bad manners. It’s just the rules of the rooftops in Rajasthan.

Today I had a tutorial in kite fighting from some expert pilots in Jaipur – Vikram, Sanjeev and Gaurev. Kites and kite fighting are a tradition in this part of India. There are rival kite fighting gangs and dedicated kite fighting bookmakers; stories of local maharajas who once kept their royal cellars stuffed with kites. The rules are simple – you use a line laced with bits of finely crushed glass and do your best to cut your opponent’s line. Best of all, if a fallen kite lands on your house, it’s yours to keep.

Armed with a harvest of freshly fallen kites, we climbed up among Jaipur’s rooftops. We launched them into the air, and it was a full minute before a neighbour manoeuvred into view and chopped my kite down. Kite fighting, I was told, can be a high stakes game. Fingers get cut. Pigeons sometimes get shredded. Competitors with their eyes trained on the skies often take a backward step off the rooftops and end up in hospital. Undeterred, I asked Gaurev what it is he enjoys about flying kites.

"I am a human being so I have a heavy body," he said. "I don't have wings so I can't fly. But there's a thing in the sky I can control through a thread. The thread becomes a connection between me and a flying object. It kind of transforms me."

Gaurev told me about an uncle who became so obsessed he would practise flying his kite by night, attaching lamps to the line so he could watch it flitting about in the darkness. The uncle fastened his line to the ground as he lay down to sleep, and would wake up the next morning to see the kite still soaring in the skies above him.

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