16 Sep 2017
5 min read
Rohit Shrestha owes his undying love for kite-flying to many people: his grandfather, father, cousins, and almost every one of his neighbours in Chhetrapati. “Kite-flying was all the rage when I was younger,” says Shrestha. “So much so that I've heard stories about how my grandfather used to make my father take care of our topi pasal in Ason so that my grandfather could go fly kites with his mates. With people like him around, it's no surprise that I too developed an affinity for kite-flying.”
Shrestha is 26 today. But every year, as Dashain nears, his seven-year-old self—and his thirst for kite-flying—surfaces. Every Dashain, he visits his trusty kite vendors in Ason and restocks his arsenal of string and kites, and lattais too, if necessary. As a seven-year-old, he used to make this shopping trip to Ason three months before Dashain arrived. “We'd start flying kites as soon as the monsoons would start to recede. The clear Dashain skies would become a battlefield for kites of varying shapes, sizes and colours.”
For Shrestha, kite-flying is a physically and mentally immersive, enriching and thrilling activity. “In the weeks leading up to Dashain, I would start getting really impatient. Winds strong enough for kite-flying would only blow late in the afternoon. I would position myself on the roof of my house with my kite and lattai even before the winds started arriving,” he says. “And once I had my kite up in the sky, there was no going downstairs for me. Before I knew it, the sky would start turning orange. But that was only further reason for me to continue flying, as evenings made for perfect kite-flying weather.” Shrestha would fly his kite until it became too dark to see.
Shrestha belongs to perhaps the last generation of Nepalis who are willing to temporarily renounce their hyperconnected lives to immerse themselves in the rich tradition of flying kites during Dashain. “Today's kids are too engrossed in their devices, and it’s taking a toll on the kite-flying tradition,” he says.
Shrestha, who has been flying kites for almost two decades now, is a walking, talking reservoir of all the tricks kite-flyers of his generation made use of to reign the skies. Here's a paraphrased version of the tips and tricks provided by the expert kite-flyer.
Preparing for take off
Go kite shopping. There are a couple of things to look out for when buying kites. First, the stick framework for the kite shouldn't be too stiff or too flexible. It should be pliant, yet firm and resilient. Don't be afraid to bend the frame to check for bendability. Because there's a chance that the frame might break, some people place the kite on their head and do the bending.
“The strings used to have really cool names, like satrangi, naurangi, DK, double panda, and what not, and prices varied depending on string strength,” says Shrestha. Again, the common misconception here is that the thicker the string, the better. Thick strings are just going to drag your kite down. But that's not to say that thin strings are better. You want string that can get as thin as possible without affecting the aerodynamics of the kite. You want string that won't bend or curve heavily when you're flying the kite. The string connecting the kite to the lattai should almost be straight. And of course, the string should have maajha.
You need to make little holes in your kite to insert the string through. Once you've inserted the string through both holes, it's time to make the knot, called the kaka. Now try letting go of some string and expose the kite to the wind. If the kite starts spinning uncontrollably, it means that one side of the kite is heavier than the other. You'll need a counterbalance made of paper scraps. Twist a small piece of the paper and curve it over on the length of the frame opposite to the heavy side. Move this paper along the frame until you achieve balance: meaning, when you’re done, the kite should spin at a controllable pace.
A wide open terrace of a tall-enough building without too many electricity cables and obstacles nearby should suffice.
3, 2, 1, take off
The recommended method is to have a friend hold the kite—with considerable string tension—while you hold the lattai, with your back facing the direction the wind is blowing from. Wait for a strong gust of wind to blow, and signal to your friend that it's time for take off. If you don’t have a partner, place the kite on the ground and hold it in place with the tips of your toes. When the right amount of wind blows, remove your toes from the kite and pull the kite up, exposing it to the wind. If you gauged the wind-strength correctly, the kite should be soaring upwards no matter which method you used.
Once you've released enough string and have good control over your kite, it’s time for battle. Let go of the string to have the kite spinning in circles. To manoeuvre your kite to the right, first let go of the string so that the kite starts circling; just when the kite's top is pointing right, stop and jerk the lattai downwards. This will make the kite swerve towards the right. Do the obverse to go left.
Now for the actual fun—changa judhaune. Many people enter a battle under this assumption: the way to win is to entangle your kite’s string with the opponent’s string and let go of your string until your opponent’s string is cut. “People waste so much string by using that tactic; it's just stupid. There’s actually a better way to do it,” says Shrestha. “The trick is to have your string come in contact with your opponent's string from the bottom. Once the two strings are close enough (opponent's string on top and your string on the bottom) but not yet in contact, jerk the lattai down and run backwards simultaneously. The initial jerk will force your kite upward, and the subsequent backward run will add to the force. If the winds are strong enough and there's good maajha on your string, you should come up tops.
Pro tip: What if someone tries to make this same move on you, you ask? Here’s Shrestha’s counter move. If a kite is trying to use the manoeuvre on you, wait for it to get closer. If the same move is being made on your kite, the opponent's kite should be approaching you from the bottom. The trick is to deploy the same move before your opponent does, but in reverse. Let go of some string and have your kite spin in circles; as soon as the kite is upside down, jerk the lattai down in the same way when you attack, so your kite moves downwards and comes in contact with the opponent's string, most likely cutting it. They won't even know what hit them. Using these tricks, Shrestha has, on a good day, taken down around eight kites using just one kite.
Bhaat is all you need for repairs
If your kite gets torn, go get some boiled rice. “When I was younger, we’d just tear a strip of newspaper and rub cooked rice onto it until the rice became a shiny sticky, gum-like layer. We'd then paste the strip of newspaper onto the torn area. Worked like a charm,” says Shrestha.
“Of course, kites used to sometimes crash-land a little too badly, and no amount of newspaper and/or bhaat would help. That's when we'd tear apart the kites and use the curved and straight sticks to make bows and arrows.”