The movie “Kites” was a flop, but the Tricoloured ones are definitely a hit on Independence Day in Delhi. But how is it that kite-flying came to be associated with August 15 in Delhi? The Old Delhiwallahs whom we spoke to said that the primary reason was perhaps the symbolic significance of thousands of kites flying free in the sky, most of them Tricoloured. And the biggest kite bazaar in Delhi is at Lal Kuan in Old Delhi, which also happens to be the origin and hub of patangbaazi in the city.
In fact, kite-flying is a common feature in Delhi all through saawan on important occasions like Rakshabandhan and Janamashtami too. But kites in the Indian national colours make for quite a spectacle on the morning of August 15 every year still, because the practice flourishes in Old Delhi. There are new, more fashionable competitors like kites with pretty ‘heroines’ and wrestlers on them and even fancy Chinese ones that, even though they’re more expensive, are in demand for their elaborate and exotic shapes.
On Independence Day, some Delhiites hoist the Tricolour, but many more fly it, as you are likely to witness in the skies today. Ask anyone who’s been brought up in the city – their dominant memory of January 26 will be waking up to watch the parade, and on August 15, they’d be waking up to fly kites, without fail, every year, with much fanfare.
But why, pray, is kite-flying, of all things, such an I-Day tradition in Delhi? Delhiwallahs who’ve been here since 1947 or who’ve been brought up in post-Partition Old Delhi will give you a variety of reasons, the prominent among them being the symbolic significance of thousands of Tricoloured kites flying free in the sky. Ashok Narayan, 48, who’s in the construction business, has been a resident of Daryaganj all his life. Daryaganj, and more than that, Chandni Chowk and surrounding areas, are the hub of patangbaazi in Delhi, he says, but he’s not sure why kiteflying should have become an I-Day tradition. “Because of TV and computers, kids don’t fly kites these days, it’s only people like us who still do that. Kite-flying has been the dominant feature of I-Day for decades around here, but I’m not sure how the association originated. My guess is that it’s an expression of freedom. If you imagine thousands of Tricoloured kites in the sky, it’s easy to see why. For us, it used to be a reason to get together on a holiday, but the tradition has really gone down in the past few years. Plus, it often rains on August 15 – once, it rained from the night of August 14 to all of the next day and we had to cancel our plans. Another time, it started raining right in the middle of the do, and there were halwais and the whole set-up on the roof, which is where you can do this sort of thing, so we had to stop,” he narrates. Even his father, he says, is not sure why, but they’re all clear that kite-flying is very much an I-Day feature in Delhi.
Sanjeev Mehra, who lived in Old Delhi before their family moved to North Delhi, still works out of Chandni Chowk for his paints business. Familiar with the ways of the city, he says that in central Delhi, you can still see a sky full of the national colours first thing in the morning on August 15, even though the practice is considerably less prevalent in other parts of the city now. “On August 15, on Rakshabandhan, on Janamashtami – all through the month of saawan, you’ll see kites flying in Old Delhi. There are proper competitions in the area around the Red Fort for this. For I-Day, kite-flying has a special significance as an expression of freedom. It’s like kabootarbaazi – the origin and the base of the practice is in Old Delhi. I’ve been coming to my shop here for the past 45 years, and the patang bazaar at Lal Kuan starts off in full strength right from the beginning of August. On I-Day, you can see little in the sky except thousands of kites, most of them Tricoloured. North Delhi mein hamaari colony mein toh ab riwaaz bahut kam ho gaya hai patang udane ka.”
His friend Rajvir Kapoor, a jeweller who works out of Chandni Chowk, says he’s been seeing patangbaazi on IDay in Delhi for all of his 50 years, especially in the Old Delhi area. “Log itne passionate hote hain ki subah 7 baje se shuru kar ke sham ko 7 baje chhaton se utarte hain. Lal Kuan is the biggest market for kites, and Tricoloured ones are sold in thousands every year. These days, there are filmstars on kites, and wrestlers, pretty heroines, etc too. But the hot thing these days are the Chinese kites, the ones in exotic shapes like butterflies. You’ll get them for 100 or more, but they’re very beautiful, good enough to put up in your drawing room!” he says.
Narayan adds that kite-flying is a part of specific festivals and occasions in various parts of the country. “In Rajasthan and Gujarat, kite-flying is an auspicious ritual on a day like Makar Sankranti. Even 40-year-old women fly kites there on their own, manjha and all. In the South, it’s on Pongal; in Punjab, on Basant Panchami,” he says. But in Delhi, today is the day when kite runners abound the city!