A Tangled Web
Author: Asym Bal
Our kite-flying evenings began with a bird call from two houses away. My brother and I would quickly close our schoolbooks, rush to the garden and respond with a chorus of urgent coo-ee’s. Hands cupped together, high-pitched, mimicking some English bird, we didn’t know which; just imitating what they did in the Robin Hood films we had seen.
Gagan and Sonu were waiting on their rooftop, watching as we vaulted our wall and that of a neighbour’s, and clambered up the swaying, termite-infested ladder that was an adventure unto itself. Gagan, the eldest, was the only one who could fly kites; the rest of us were appointed a chain of lesser tasks – holding the chakhri (the string-wheel) while the kite was in the air, holding the kite for launch, un-entangling the manjha (string) we had looted from other kites.
I remember the swoop and soar of the kite, the flutter of its paper in the wind, the sharp tug of its string on my index finger. I remember the panicked flutter of wings, the explosion of feathers, the cruel red slash of string into flesh – one evening, when a pigeon, tangled in our kite string, crashed onto the rooftop.
I’d like to think that was a tipping point for us. A broken bird led us four friends, founders and sole members of the imaginatively titled Best Friends Club, to solemnly swear never to fly kites again.
About the Campaign:
Festivities and sportsDelhi’s fascination with kite flying was centred largely around Independence Day and has long since declined. In other parts of the country though, the ancient tradition holds firm – but what used to be a recreational activity, an expression of colour and freedom and the human fascination with non-powered flight, has in some regions evolved into a fiercely competitive sport.
Makar Sankranti, the traditional Indian harvest festival that usually falls on January 14, is an occasion for celebration. In Rajasthan and Gujarat, the festivities include kite flying; but what is supposed to be a celebration of rebirth in nature has turned these areas into killing fields for bird populations.
The growing use of glass-coated and in particular non-biodegradable Chinese manjha (string) – made of metallic/nylon yarn with an abrasive coat of crushed glass glued on to it – has made things worse, with thousands of birds being injured or killed around Makar Sankranti each year. Further, after the kite flying is done, tangles of sharp manjha are found on trees and lampposts: a hazard for birds and people alike. (Last January, a six-year-old girl died after her throat was cut by a line of kite string overhanging a road in Jaipur).
Photo Courtesy: Raksha.
Fortunately, some agencies are willing to fight the good fight. The Jaipur-based NGO Raksha (www.raksha.org.in) and the Ahmedabad-based Jivdaya Charitable Trust (www.jivdayatrust.org) run free bird rescue, treatment and rehabilitation camps around Makar Sankranti. They also organise awareness campaigns. Raksha’s range of activities, for instance, includes bird safety presentations and talks in schools and colleges, street theatre performances, signature campaigns and pledges (see below), and even the mock funeral procession of a bird! IFAW-WTI has been supporting a number of such initiatives in Gujarat and Rajasthan.
While state authorities have stepped in to ban Chinese manjha and restrict kite flying during the hours that birds are most active, such measures can only be effective with the backing of local people. If you like to fly kites, or live in an area where kite flying is a serious hazard, step up and take the following pledge – and encourage others totake it too:
I will not fly kites with glass/metal coated manjha.
I will not fly kites from 6:00 a.m. to 8.00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
I will not turn a blind eye to an injured bird.