Sudipta Dey

Petkati chandiwal, mombati, bogga… aakasher ghurir jhaank, matite obogya….
Vishwakarma Puja is synonymous with kite flying. As the tradition of flying kites is fast disappearing in the south of Kolkata, north Kolkatans still hold on to this sport, making it a must-do on September 17.
“People have become very busy these days. With a corporate touch fast creeping into their lives, most people don’t get time to fly kites. They are hardly home on Vishwakarma Puja. Moreover, there is no open space left in Kolkata. Even if you go up to the terrace there are hundreds of houses on all sides. The fun element has gone,” says Subir Sarkar.
“I lived in Beniapukur, near Park Circus, when I was young. Back then flying kites and winning them was a regular evening activity on the Park Circus cemetery grounds. We even made our own manja,” reminisces Sarkar, who now resides in Jodhpur Park.
The tradition of flying kites originated in China nearly 2,800 years ago and was essentially used to send messages for rescue mission. Later, it was also used during the World War II for the same purpose. But over the years, it spread throughout Asia and soon became a sport. From royalty to commoners, everyone participated in the sport.
The origin of kite-flying in Bengal can be traced back to 1850 when Wajid Ali Shah, then Nawab of Awadh, was banished to Metiabruz. With little to do, he indulged in two of his greatest passions — chess and kite-flying. The babus of Calcutta were quick to catch on. The sport became a favourite with the 19th century elite of Bengal. There were some who showed off their wealth by attaching currency notes to the kite. Some even went to the extent of getting their names inscribed on the kites.
However, there are some who are trying to keep the tradition alive. Arijit Dutta, owner of Priya Entertainment, hosts a Kite Flying Festival every year. He has been doing it for the last five years on the Star Theatre terrace. “Kite-flying has been predominantly a north Kolkata tradition, but now-a-days even that is also vanishing. The idea of this festival is to bring people together,” says Dutta. Drawing parallels with the other pujas in Bengal he adds, “In Bengal there are activities related to each puja. Viswakarma Puja is all about flying kites. It is also a small scale industry in Bengal that needs to be kept alive as well.”
There are many kite makers in the city who have been making kites for generations. Kolkata Kites at Lebutala, near Lenin Sarani, was established in 1961. Ever since, the business has grown into two more branches — Bengal Kites and India Kites. They have a similar story.
“Business is generally low throughout the year. Now is the time when we make most profit,” says Nemai Patra of Kolkata Kites.
Abhiba Kites on Creek Row is one shop that has grown over the last 25 years. Ujjal Ray started making kites because he was passionate about it. Now his shop has eight workers who make kites worth Rs 150-200 each day.
“We send supplies to the wholesale and retail markets. Designer kites are also available. We also import samples from China and Japan. That is how we got the offer to make Japanese kites for Aparna Sen’s The Japanese Wife. At present they are with the production house,” says Ray.
A grasshopper kite and a huge Batman kite are displayed in front of his shop. “These attract the youngsters. The kids now-a-days hardly fly kites. Petkattis, Chandiyals, chandtaras, pankhiyals don’t attract them anymore. The designer ones are the ones they want,” says Ujjal Ray. “It is the older generation, specially those aged 30 and above, who flew kites in their heydays. They are our loyal customers,” he adds.