Blowing in the Wind

First published on January 16, 2016

Image: Salim Shaikh
Jamalpur ke patang
Bareilly ya Surat ki dori
Aur ban gayee patang ki jodi*
Umarbhai (Mohammad Umar Mohammad Hanif Shaikh) has been in the business of kite making for 40 years.  For 16 years as a mazdoor  (labourer) and since 1990 as a manufacturer. His father worked in Ahmedabad’s textile mills. From the April of every year until the early hours of January 14, Uttarayan, Gujarat’s premier festival he makes and sells as many as 15 lakh kites. He is the manufacturer getting the painstaking work of crafting kites from households of women in Jamalpur, Kalupur and adjoining localities of Ahmedabad. Craftswomen are all Muslim as are 98 per cent of the manufacturers. The raw material, fine kagaz (paper) and kamaan (stick frames) come from wholesale dealers from Kolkatta. The mota kagaz (thicker paper) comes from the markets of Delhi. Only five per cent of the manufacturing of kites in Gujarat from Nadiad and Khabhat is with Hindus.
It is a small manufacturing hub with two of his ‘worker karigars’ and the genius of Mustufabhai, the design wiz who spins out the latest fantasies that fly in the sky. This year the motifs are from Bolllywood’s Bajranji Bhaijaan and South Indian cinema’s Bahubali which commandeer the popular imagination…’I love Taj (Mahal), Sallu Bhaijaan (Salman Khan) are also other popular slogans on kites. Narendra Modi’s popularity though not as high as before, has not dropped from the skies, entirely. “Allah ke karam se hamaare Mustufabhai ke design bahut chalti hai,” Umarbhai told us. (By the grace of the Almighty Allah, Mustifabhai’s designs really work).
Enter the kite markets of Ahmedabad’s Jamalpur on the nights of January 12 and 13 and the area is abuzz with late night dealings. Bright lights greet us. ‘Aftabbhai Patangwaala’  is just one of the brightly lit signs. Over 500 small and large manufacturers make up the hub here.  Here are some of the names of the famous kite designers and manufacturers:  Kudratullah Amanullah Pathan of Shahin Kites, Abdul Vahidkhan Pathan of Kanij Patang Centre, Aiyubkhan Hafizkhan Pathan of Shadab Kites, Yusuf Mohammedhanif Rangrej of BS Patang Makers and Rajubhai Hafizbhai Patangwala of Gujarat Kites.

Image: Salim Shaikh

Often some of the family businesses actually involved in the crafting are mobile,  also traveling to other parts. The annual schedule goes like this: In Gujarat, kites and manja (strong) are made  from August to January. Immediately after Uttarayan, some families move to UP, where they start with the same work for Ganga Dusshera festival which falls in June-end.” Once done with the ten-day Ganga Dusshera festival, the same group can moves to Delhi for two months (July-August), as kite flying is observed in Delhi on August 15 every year. While these families work hard, the returns are minimal. “During the eight months of work in Gujarat, the gross earnings reach Rs1 lakh, against a gross expenditure around Rs 40,000,” disclosed another manufacturer, who makes and sells kites in Kalupur. This implies an approximate income of about Rs 7,500 per month, on which the entire family depends. Each member of the family specialises in different activities. “Kite-making is laborious and cannot be done by machine. While my brother is quick in cutting paper/plastic, I do the work of sticking the thin sticks on it and my brother ties the tail to it. This way, we make around 1,000-1,500 kites in a day,” says another resident of the Jamalpur area.
The economics works something like this. Charges of the paper for one thousand kites is Rs 1,000 and labour charges approximate Rs 600 (per 1,000 kites).The break-up is elaborate but includes cutting of paper, threading on the kite, attaching the round/curved frame and final stick links, finishing etc. The rate at which the manufacturer sells to the wholesaler is between Rs 2,000-2,500 per 1,000 kites after incurring a cost of Rs 1600 per thousand kites. The profit therefore is between forty paise to ninety paise per kite. A pittance for the actual skilled worksmith and manufacturer; higher for the stockist and retailer. A kite can sell at Rs four to five in retail markets depending on the size.

Gujarat unfortunately known for its intra-community divide drops this side of its identity when it comes to doing business. “In 1992 and again in 2002 when communal sentiments were at their height, for a few months relations are strained,” says Umarbhai. Then things return to the proverbial, businesslike normal.
While the kites of Rampur, Jaipur and Jodhpur are famously made from other materials, the kagaz ki kalaakaari (art of paper made kites that fly high and far) rests solely with the women and men, Muslims, of Ahmedabad. Manufacturers sell to the stockists (wholesalers) from all over Gujarat; Umarbhai’s stock goes as far as stockists in Nadiad, Kalol and nearby Kalupur: Kalaa hamare haath mein hai, Vyapaar unke haat mein. (The manufacturing is with us, the trade is in Hindu hands)
The months after Diwali (around October-November each year) and Uttarayan ( kite flying festival on the occasion of Makar Sakranti) are the busiest. Each home, depending on the capacity of the women members, makes as many as 4-10,000 kites and is paid per piece). Designs are carefully chosen and dished out. While the paper-cutting. Designing and pasting is a Gujarati skill, the dori rangna (colouring of the maanjha, the string that flies the kites) is a skill handled by kaarigars (skilled worksmiths) from Kolkatta. Though many of these are Muslims, some are not; they come and station themselves in Ahmedabad for the tricky and skilled task of mixing ground glass paste and colours that are then coated on the strong that flies the kites. The proportion of the mix is crucial: too much can sear fingers that fly the kites, and too little glass can make you fail the Uttarayan  test: flying the kite and cutting down the one of your opponent. The most famous doris are from Bareilly and Surat. The Bareilly dori is available in markets there. the dori worksmiths from Kolkatta come in to Gujarat. But the final product is pasted together in and around Ahmedabd’s Jamalpur. Before they are flown high up in the sky.

*The kites of Jamalpur
The string of Surat or Barreily
That makes up the right kite combination



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