The Secret Art of Kite Flying

by Julia Makin (Japan)

Making a local connection India


Twilight. The last of the sun's rays are disappearing, and the Rajasthani village of Deshnoke is bathed in a dreamlike purple haze. As I climb onto the roof of my host family's house, the melody of a lone flute drifts hauntingly from a nearby temple. I am not alone. Nanu, the priest's son, is silhouetted against the dying light, tugging on a string with careful precision. High above him a kite flutters delicately, riding an unseen air current. His eyes are shining with a fierce mixture of concentration and joy as he turns and smiles at me. 'You try?' Cautiously I take the string. Through my fingers I feel the steady vibration of flowing air coupled with the erratic tugging of the kite, playfully trying to escape its tether. I immediately understand Nanu's joy. To hold the kite's string is to hold a direct connection to the sky, a lifeline to a secret world that cannot be seen, only felt. With the wind in my hands I can almost feel the sensation of flying, though my feet are planted firmly on the ground. Then suddenly the line goes slack, the connection is lost, and the kite dives like a suicidal bird of prey towards the telephone wires below. 'Give me, give me!' I hastily give him the string. Nanu tugs downwards, then up. The kite does a U turn and returns once more to the sky. Though young, Nanu is already a master of his art. Carefully I observe and try to mimic each practised flick and pull of his wrist as he guides the kite, but in vain. The kite is like a wild animal which answers only to its master's will, and my efforts repeatedly end in frustration. The next day, the rooftops around ours are littered with children, all staring hungrily at a lone kite floating towards us, its string attached to a faraway rooftop. Among them is Nanu. 'Look!' he cries, agitated. 'Too far! Wind come, and cut! Cut!' he slices his hand dramatically through the air. Soon, I understand. Like Icarus, the kite has strayed too far towards the sun. A gust of wind snaps the fragile string and it drifts free. Nanu hurls himself towards the stairs. The race has begun. By the time I peer over the edge of the roof a boy, older and faster than the rest, has already grabbed the kite from its landing place and is bounding home with his prize. The children return home, deflated. Later, I return from the village to see Nanu on the roof with his friends, shouting at a rival gang of children on the street below. Their leader swings a stone attached to a rope menacingly as they wait for the wind to lure Nanu's kite towards them, and the hunt to begin. To these children, a kite is more than just paper and bamboo. The children have created their own culture here among the rooftops of Deshnoke. It is one which evokes memories of Lord of the Flies and is built solely on a shared and fierce love of flying. One day they will pass ownership of their outdoor kingdom to their own children and take their place in the houses below. Until then, they have eyes only for the sky. On my final evening in the village, I return to the roof one last time. My train will leave later that night, and I will wake to a foggy sunrise over a desert littered with leafless trees, their branches like dead spider's legs, withered and grasping. Nanu hands me the string for the last time. The kite spins twice, then dives mischievously. 'Give me, give me!' This time, before I can obey a new instinct seems to possess my hands, and I allow the wind to guide their movements freely, unthinkingly... The kite swoops joyfully back into the sky. And suddenly, I understand the secret to the art of kite flying. It is not to gain control, but relinquish it. Like Nanu, I have not mastered the kite, but let it become the master of me. The kite leaps higher, and I feel a surge of uncontrollable joy.