This kite-sellers muhalla draws both the rich and the penniless, finds Rishi Majumder
Photographer: Rana Chakraborty
Give me a 12½ inch kite,” says a customer. “You won’t get that for one rupee, two is the going price,” answers Qureishi Masood Ahmed. “So, can you make us a kite for our advertisement,” asks another. “Maybe, but the cost could be up to Rs 3,000.” The two purchasers vying for King Kite Centre owner Qureishi’s attention are a slum child and a corporate executive. And that sums up the dichotomy surrounding the ensemble of kite shops next to Lucky Restaurant, Bandra, extending into the narrow M R Sawant Road. The kites in question range from one rupee small Bombay Fighter kites to huge ornate cloth kites from China for a r o u n d Rs 300 to cust o m – m a d e kites for festivals or advertisements that go up to Rs 5,000 ( Q u r e i s h i ’s quote was on the cheaper side).
While a dingy Bharat Kites, the oldest shop in the vicinity, dates back to 1912, most of the seven odd shops are between 40 and 60 years old. “Seventy per cent of our customers have always been and are children from the poorer sections who buy fighter kites,” Ahmed Qazi, who owns Bharat Kites, points out. “Kite-flying is one of their few recreations—no TV or video games”. So what goes into the making of this fighting machine? Kite-sellers swear by ‘maanja’ (kite thread) from Bareilly and the actual kite from Rampur. “The true ustaads sit there, with many centuries and generations of kite making behind them,” enlightens Nizam Ali whose shop specialises in fighter kites. Shamsher Khan whose shop calls itself Indian Fighter Kites, distinguishes between two kinds of maanjas: “There’s a Nine Taar which is exceptionally sturdy and a sharp thin Number 30.” “The sturdy one is for trapping your opponents kite (ghaseetna) while not cutting your own, and the sharp one for cutting through his maanja (dheel dena),” Qureishi enumerates excitedly. But kite-flying is not always about competing. “We have over 200 designs in different colours for those who want to buy kites for celebration or decoration,” Shaukat Ali Khan of Standard Kites boasts. There are ‘designer’ kites and typical ones. The former spans a huge range from diamond kites with long tails to kites made of metallic paper which glint against the sun. But soaring into fashion of late are Chinese kites, of which Qureishi’s King Kite Centre has the largest array. “ T h e y ’ r e made of plastic, silk and canvas and come in every design from a snake, butterfly and lion to a jet plane, a superhero or a greeting like Id Mubarak,” Qureishi displays, adding that during M a k a r S a n k r a n t i , there’s such a bustle in his small cubbyhole of a shop that most call in to reserve their kites.
While some of these shops are only for the season starting August 15 to January 14 (the Makar Sankranti Festival), others are perennial. “My first love was films,” informs Shaukat Ali Khan ruing the seasonal tenor of this ‘dhanda’ he chose unwittingly. “I used to hang out with Amitabh Bachchan in Ranjit Studios. I made the set of Razia Sultana. Now this… to earn something.”
Qureishi is more upbeat: “If a business can yield money, why not focus on it! Everyone from Amir Khan, Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar and an Oxford professor have bought from us!” Also, the street urchin still haggling for his one rupee…
This article originally appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/bs6f