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Mohammad Usman learnt the art of kite-making from his award-winning father Late Umar Daraz. Image Credit: Shafaat Shahbandari

Bengaluru: Kites may not have originated in India, but they have taken to the Indian skies like the Indian Brahmini Kites.

Flying kites is one sport in Indian in which both young and old take part with equal aplomb. Families gathering to fly kites from their rooftops and trying to bring down the kites of their neighbours is a familiar sight in India.

Once cut off, little urchins who stand waiting on the streets, run as the kites come down, tracing their way through the narrow streets to get their hands on the fallen trophies.

Their only reward is the thrilling of chasing the kite and the bragging rights with their friends.

Whether making, flying or chasing, the kite has become an integral part of India’s folk culture, particularly in northern and western India, where kite making has become a craft and kite flying an art.

Who popularised it?

Though existent in India since the ancient times, it was popularised by the Mughals as a cultural sport. However, kite flying festivals and competitions are now common in many Indian states, with the state of Gujarat taking the lead through its annual Kite Festival that has teams from all over the country taking part.

For most people in India, kite flying is a seasonal activity, especially a spring time festival associated with Uttarayan or Makar Sankranti in western Indian, and with Basant Panchami and Baisakhi in the Punjab and other north states.

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Mohammad Usman with his artisanal and decorative kites at a Delhi Craft Council exhibition. Image Credit: Shafaat Shahbandari

However, for some like Mohammad Usman, captain of Delhi’s award-winning Umar Daraz Kite Club, it is a daily passion.

“We fly kites almost throughout the year, except during Ramadan and in monsoon. Otherwise, we don’t need any occasion to fly a kite. Sometimes, I even fly a kite in the middle of the night, when I can’t find sleep. Neighbours call me crazy, may be I am - crazy about kites,” said Mohammad Usman, a kite artisan and Delhi’s champion kite pilot.

Usman regularly travels to different parts of India, representing Delhi in regional and national kite flying competitions. Recently, the 25-year-old won top honours for Delhi in the annual tournament in Gujarat.

Originally from Old Delhi, Usman now lives with his sister in a run down single room on the terrace of dilapidated old building in Delhi’s Laxmi Nagar area. The cave-like terrace surrounded by tall buildings with very little open space is enough for Usman to send his kite of aspirations flying.

“I can fly a kite from any place. Most people would need open sky to fly a kite, but all I need is a small window. Actually, the art of kite flying needs some space to manoeuvre, but Almighty Allah has given me this gift that I can fly even among a maze of wires. Practising here in this maze has certainly given me an edge over others. If you can fly here, you can fly anywhere else in the world,” added Usman, elaborating on how he ac-quired his unbeatable skills.

Science in kite flying

He says that kite flying is not just about having a kite, string and an open sky.

“There is an entire science in kite flying. Time of the day, wind direction, moisture in the air, temperature etc. need to be taken into consideration. We choose paper and other material based on the conditions. We prepare kites for all conditions, taking into consideration all elements and requirements of the flight,” said Usman, who is not just a champion flyer but a master kite craftsman as well.

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Mohammad usman is a master at flying kites in all conditions. Image Credit: Shafaat Shahbandari

When not flying a kite, Usman is making one and this actually is his real passion. It is a passion that he acquired from his legendary father, Umar Daraz Kitemaker.

An award-winning artisan, the Late Umar Daraz had won international acclaim for his kite-making skill that took him around the world and brought him loads of accolades.

Youngest child of Umar Daraz, Usman began making kites at the age of four, watching his legendary father work his magic with paper, reed and scissors.

“I was in awe of my father, watching him make kites so effortlessly and devotedly. Yet, he was so meticulous about his work. He was very particular about every step of kite-making. From the choice of paper and reed for the bow to the making of the glue and cutting as well as designing, every aspect has a method about it. If the right material is not chosen and right method is not followed, your kite will not do well,” he said.

Usman’s sister Fatima, who is also an acclaimed artisan, adds that no matter how good a pilot you are, if your kite is not well made, it will not go too far.

“Half the battle is won in the making of the kite and in the choice of the string. The string has to match the type of kite, all this needs thorough knowledge. Having a father who mastered the art gave us a huge advantage. We learnt whatever we could from him. He is no more with us. But, when we are making or flying the kites, we feel he is with us. This is the biggest motivation for us to continue this tradition,” said Fatima, who has won accolades making decorative kites, paper bags and envelops from waster material.

Fatima can make kites as small as the size of her finger nails and the two siblings are a regular feature at the craft exhibitions in Delhi, showcasing their exceptional work and keeping the legacy of their father flying high!

-- Shafaat Shahbandari is a freelance journalist based in Bengaluru. He is the founder-editor of Thousand Shades of India