Above, from left to right: Ibrahim Khan, Deepak, Dilip and Hemant Kapadia, Mohd Niyaz Ansari, Abdul Rauf, S M Khan, Abdul Rehman Khan, Raees Ahmad, Mohd Hanif Ansari and Farhan Ansari Abdul Rauf
Pics: Santosh Harhare
On the surface, the Khan familys kite stall was much like any of a dozen in Bombay. There were several virtually identical shops just down the street, just as there are similar shops by the score in every city and hamlet of India though certainly modest in comparison to the Khans businessit was thought to be the largest kite-manufacturing concern in all of India.
And not just in India, actually, for it seemed likely that the Khans manufactured and sold more kites each year than any other kite business in the world.
So wrote Tal Streeter in his book A Kite Journey Through India (1996, published by Weatherhill, Inc) a rare document that reveals within in its pages Streeters impressions of India and the untold stories of the love affairs of Indian kite enthusiasts with their kites.
Five years later, that love affair has lost its passion, especially in the city of Mumbai. All that is left in its wake is a disparate, abandoned population of kiters (as they call themselves) fliers and collectors a group of people struggling to hold onto the reins of this dying sport, and consequently, the artisans, who are left writhing as the profession of kite-making crawls to its inevitable, untimely death in the city.
Abdul Rauf, Ustaad Patangwala of Mohammad Ali Road, explains, Flying a kite is an activity of play, of outdoor leisure in the Indian culture. In Mumbai, its mostly too hot to fly a kite. Even if you want to, there is hardly any space a building terrace may not be the ideal place. TV, film theatres, internet, even cricket have taken over our lives. A kite belongs in the sky, ideally, but now it seems it belongs only in a museum.
Streeters Khan, more appropriately, Shaban M Khan, still remains a manufacturer, dealer and exporter of Indian fighter kites. But the once-glorious trade appears wasted today, although his shop, like others, is still visibly bursting with shimmering kites. Abdul Rehman
With each passing year, the number of kites being made and sold is decreasing drastically everywhere in Mumbai. Where once Nawabs and royals had patronised this sport, today kite-buyers are mostly cheeky boys with change to spare a regular kite costs anything between a rupee and Rs 10.
Abdul Rehman Khan, Khans son, now sits in place of his semi-paralytic father at the shop and puts the statistics into place. There was a time when we sold thousands of kites every year, and that ran into lakhs during festive season. Now we barely sell 15,000 or 20,000 kites even during the kite festival of Makar Sankranti. S M Khan
Other shops in the vicinity tell the same story, so dont be fooled by the pomp and splendour of Imamwada Road at Bhendi Bazaar during the days that run-up to Makar Sankranti on January 14. Dongri is groomed like a new bride during Makar Sankranti. But its all temporary, says Khan, who was an avid kite-flier in his heyday.
Raees Ahmad of Raees Kites, BandraA stones throw away from the Khans shop is the 70-year-old Farhan Kite Centre run by Farhan Ansari. Unlike the Khans, Ansari doesnt mix business with pleasure, not any more: I stopped flying kites 15 years ago.
I now sell kites, a business which does not bring me any profits. Raees Ahmad of Raees Kites, adjacent to Lucky hotel in Bandra, mouths the same sentiments. Ive been in the business for 12 years, and I sell kites mostly to the local boys. I barely sell 30 kites a day. How do I make ends meet?
Its a question asked by most kite-sellers seated in their run-down shops here. The chilling reality now dawning on most of these kite-makers is that they must either find alternative sources of livelihood or perish with their trade. The Khans have already established an alternative line of work, making and selling kite umbrellas and calendars.
Abdul Rauf has taken over his fathers shoe shop at Mohammad Ali Road, selling chappals when not indulging in the sport. Ansari, on the other hand, says he has no alternative livelihood because he has no other skills. Im making do with what I earn. But its the small fish that get easily swallowed every kite passes through four hands before it reaches the fliers. At each stage, someone is working on it for a small amount of money. Hundreds would lose their jobs if kite-making stops. Its impact would echo in various corners of the country Bareilly would be severely affected because its the commercial hubbub for manjha manufacturing, an instrument without which kites cannot be flown. Farhan
Even as kite-making and flying in Mumbai and India fade into oblivion, they are soaring to new heights outside the country under the patronage of a breed of expert kite-fliers and collectors, many of whom ironically hail from Mumbai.
Dilip Kapadia is one such kite virtuoso who has become an ambassador for the sport. His two sons, Deepak and Hemant, have inherited this love for kites. Although Kapadia has been flying them for a whopping 65 years now, he still worships kites, consecrating five hours every weekend to the art. The brothers take turns accompanying their father to international kite-flying festivals abroad. Raees Ahmad
France, Taiwan, Germany, Sri Lanka theyve battled with skies and won competitions everywhere. Kapadias appetite for kites is voracious, making him a storehouse of information on the subject.
He keeps his finger on the pulse of the sport through an intricate network of friends and tons of reading material. I have no greater love than kitesI run my own business, but my heart lies in my hobby, says Dilip Kapadia. His home at Babulnath tells all about his passion kites, manjhas, spools, and racks laden with kite literature peek at you from all conceivable surfaces.
By profession, he is a travel agent, but Ajay Prakash, another authority on kites, loves to organise kite-flying events across the country, inviting everyone from champion kite-fliers to beginners to partake in activities.
His festivals have become a platform, a meeting ground for kite-lovers from different cultures.
Prakash also owns a formidable collection of exotic kites birds, butterflies and others which he flies at kite festivals. Even as grim realities loom large and threaten the existence of kite-makers in Dongri and Bandra, Kapadia and Prakash gear up for another Makar Sankranti: A kite can never cease to exist so long as you know how to make one, you can always indulge in the sport.
Dilip KapadiaKapadia and Prakash, along with other enthusiasts, continue to help the sport spread its wings the world over. The art of kite-cutting, once unique to India, is now being practiced in faraway lands.
Its a sport that is flourishing beyond Indian borders; most people are unaware that the family of traditional Indian fighter kites is by far the largest on the planet, in number and variety. But ironically, with makers and sellers shutting shops here, it is fast losing its magnificent presence in its home skies.
Deepak and Hemant Kapadia
A sky dotted with bobbing kites, rich, earth-blue tones and two of the biggest celebrities in India showing their skill with spool and string. Deepak Kapadia had designed and flown hundreds of kites his entire life, but these ones were special he was flying them for Sachin Tendulkar and Amitabh Bachchan!
Appointed kite consultants for a soft drink commercial to be aired on TV, the Kapadia brothers Golden Kite Flying Club had been approached by Prahlad Kakars ad production unit, Offspring, to make and fly kites of various shapes and sizes.
On a bitterly cold January morning, the brothers found themselves standing under a sea of kites designed by them, waiting for the camera to roll.
Sachin Tendulkar and Amitabh Bachchan fly a kite made by Deepak and Hemant Kapadia
Recalling his first encounter with Bachchan, Deepak says, It was most unusual I was wearing my kite gear lots of kite pins and special T-shirts. Amitabh Bachchan approached me saying, Arre bhai sahib, aapne itne sare billay kyun laga rakhen hain? After that he only referred to me by the slogan on my t-shirt: Manjha Club, the name of a kite-club to which I belong.
Both Bachchan and Tendulkar expressed an interest in flying kites, and conversations often revolved around kites and the experiences of the Kapadia brothers when they had participated in international kite-flying competitions.
As a parting gift, I gifted Sachin a kite made of transparent plastic with his portrait painted on it with a cola bottle and a similar one to Amitabh, says a nostalgic Kapadia.
the number of kites sold in four city shops in 1993
the number of kites sold in four city shops in 2003
The above is a sum of sales figures, some including exports, from four city shops: Bombay Umbrella Mart, Dongri Kite Centre, Raees Kites, Farhan Kite Centre