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An invader out of the blue—Changa Chait!

An invader out of the blue—Changa Chait!

Albeit, age has caught up with me—past my mid-sixties today—every Dashain, when kites dot the sky in a kaleidoscope of vibrant colors–red, blue, yellow, green, you name it, the sight mesmerizes me to take a flight down memory lane to my childhood fantasy—flying and fighting kites.  

Bygone memories surge back, and the image of a skinny little boy swims before my eyes. Oblivious to the rest of the world, he totes a lattai (wooden reel), his eyes glued on his red kite pivoting, spinning, and diving in the sky in the sweltering midday sun, his face turned ruddy swathed in sweat and grime—for all he cares. 

Just then, out of the blue, a yellow-n-black bi-colored kite looms, spoiling for a fight. The boy watches the adversary and, with bated breath, braces himself. The challenger soars up, whirls, and tears down upon his kite. 

Attaboy! The boy smartly outwits the blitzing onrush, propels his kite above the opponent’s, and, gaining the upper hand, zeroes in on it before it can get its bearings. The duel kicks off, both fixated on a kill as lines get fed, and the warring kites spin away. 

Hardly past a few moments, the bi-colored contender, unawares, totters and plunges earthward in a pathetic glide. ‘Chait’, bursts out the boy, bellowing at the top of his voice—his cheeks flushed florid.  

How can I forget those stirring moments drenched in excitement and drama, let alone the wide-eyed, heady little lad flying his kite? Because, dear readers, I was ‘he’.

In the 1960s, in Kathmandu, with no telly and dreary delays (some for months) for movies to switch at the handful of theaters, for the youngsters, the only way out to unwind during the Dashain holidays was to fly kites, run kites and fight kites.

I was 10/12 years old, and my passion and obsession was flying kites. And to satisfy my craze, I would go to any lengths head over heels. I whined, scrounged, stole, threw one too many tantrums at home, and did not mind trading mom’s thrashing for a day’s kiting. 

Following the Dashain escapades, what stood out as endearing reminders were the tell-tale cuts, gashes, and rashes, all so gallantly endured during the time, and the sudden nostalgic feeling a cherished season had again gone by a little too early.

The historical Asan Tole, in those days, with a sprinkling of kite shops, was the hub for all the kiting paraphernalia. Unlike the ready-to-use glass-coated strings (available in later years), we had to do with plain strings. The kites came from Kolkata and Patna (India), the strings from Bareilly (India), while the local carpenters made the wooden reels.

There was more; we could not just yet have a go at flying, as we stood no chance of sparring it out with other flyers without applying the maza on the string—a concoction of alas (flax seed), arrowroot powder, sago grains, a slippery extract squeezed out of a cactus plant called ghyukumari (aloe vera), and powdered glass (pounded electric bulbs). 

We brewed the whole gamut of ingredients into a thick consistency and then applied it to the string and let it dry in the sun; every kiter prided himself in his maza recipe, which he kept hush-hush for success at kite fighting, rested upon it.

I was not an ace fighter, but I held some clout over my neighborhood peers. In my elements, I downed seven or eight kites in a day against a loss of two or three, a feat my local pals admired. But there were days when only frustrating defeats stared me in the face. 

I had friends who were great at kite running, but I needed a stomach for it as it called for speed and brawn that I lacked, and as often as not, such runs ended up in brawls.

One Dashain, our neighborhood was in for a big jolt—an intruder had trespassed our territory, blazing a cutting spree across our sky, spelling doom for every single kite that dared cross its path. None stood a chance, and none—spared. A confrontation for me was inevitable, but I was not the kind to be intimidated that easily. But, it looked like I was fated, too, like the other kiters. It hurt bad when I lost kite after kite to this formidable adversary.

What confounded us most was his style of launching an attack, which was weird to all flyers of our genre. The rule of thumb for us was to secure an upper hold over the opponent’s line and feed the line in a steady, unhurried motion after complete contact. To our disbelief, this fellow did the contrary by engaging his line from below. Incredible!

The kite approached from below, lifted straight up in an unexpected rush, and before we could grasp what was happening, our lines snapped as if a razor had touched them off. Just like that, no kidding! The cutting binge continued for days; all we could do was gawk at our hapless kites. None of our ruses worked against this seemingly invincible invader.

Overnight, this stranger had turned into a superstar, talked about in hushed tones whenever the boys met in the alleys of our neighborhood. Words flew around that this fellow was from India visiting an uncle in our neighborhood.

Near desperation, I decided to visit this mystery fellow, a dark horse—just a spitting distance away from my house. When I dropped by the house, to my great surprise, I found him flying his kite with his bare hands, the reel held by another chap. 

Whoa! No boy in Kathmandu then flew with bare hands! Even as I watched, dumbfounded at the ease, the flourish, and the control he displayed at tugging and jerking on his line, he downed two kites to their doom.

I cautiously approached him, anxious to get to the bottom of this mystery, “Wow! That was superb—two kites downed in less than ten minutes. You know this is the first time anyone has struck off kites in this style in our neighborhood.”

“Well, there is nothing special to it. In India, we fight kites this way,” he smiled. Fascinated, I decided to pry into the matter, pushing on, “It beats me how you do it ‘cause we only spar by paying off our line.”

“Simple,” he volunteered. “If you are mounting your attack by hauling your line, you have to pilot from below when you go for the coup de grace. You need to maintain the upward surge at a very fast and unbroken pace. If you stick to a rapid drag, keeping your line taut, it devastates your opponent.”

“So what’s the other guy supposed to do to foil this attack?” I egged him impatiently. “No sweat! All he has to do is make a dive for it to meet the surge as fast as he can until his line gets into full contact and let go of his line. This way, the other guy won't stand a ghost of a chance.” For me, it was a sensational revelation.

As expected, I had a showdown with him the next day; I launched an attack following the newcomer’s instruction to the letter. I could not believe my eyes when down went his kite; the day followed with three more victories for me against him with just one loss. 

So, after all, this guy was not as invincible as all the local boys and I had come to believe. One should have watched me then, swaggering down the street, my chin held high, my neighborhood boys eyeing me green with envy!

 Most admittedly, the chap from India had caused quite a stir in our neighborhood like never before. The dog-fights between us continued for two more days, each vying to outwit the other, scores almost nip and tuck. Our kites dominated the sky as if the rest did not exist. However, we all this time shared a strange camaraderie despite our kites being in perpetual warfare.

Following a week of our tug of war, I was all set as usual, with a renewed enthusiasm for a face-off. But the sky was conspicuous by the stranger’s kite’s absence. I frantically scoured the sky for his kite to appear almost the entire day, followed by a disappointing two more days–to little avail.

I learned he had left for India. For many Dashains that followed, as the pirouetting kites flashed in vibrant hues and shades against the indigo sky, I really and truly missed the invader from the blue.

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