Monday, March 21, 2005

19. No Running Starts on Rooftops



Fig. 19-1: The Competition

One afternoon in Varanasai, through the haze of allergy medication, I tried my hand at the popular Indian sport of Kite Flying, though I quickly found that I lack any sort of natural talent for this variation on, what for me, was a childhood hobby. The Old City here is so cramped, that all recreation within its boundaries is limited to that which can be undertaken on its rooftops. It's in this environment that, for a very long time now, people of all ages have been taking to the air with kites whose lines are dipped in a mixture of crushed light bulbs and glue, and try to assert air dominance in their particular part of the elevated neighborhood by cutting down any nearby kites with this sharpened string. The effect of having all of these kites whipping around the sky is a little bit ridiculous at first, but the competition is nothing short of dead serious.

Kites here are smaller and simpler in appearance than those of my youth, though they proved much harder to get airborne than the ones that we used to buy as kids at the gas station, as there are no running starts on rooftops, so air resistance has to be achieved through a rapid succession of jerks on the line, alternately pulling the line in, and letting it out with a judiciousness that I simply couldn’t comprehend.

On top of this, the market-bought kite of a western tourist would be a hotly sought-after prize, and a few kids on nearby rooftops told me as much when they tried to get me to just give them the kite instead of having to wait for me figure out how to get the thing in the air before they cut me down.

Suffice to say, I did neither: by the time I was done trying to accomplish the first of these two tasks, my kite was trashed to the point where it was no longer airworthy, let alone trophy material.


Fig. 19-2: Liftoff over the Ganges

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