Jamalpur and The Kitemaker’s Trail

Jamalpur and The Kitemaker’s Trail

The January sky in Ahmedabad is a riot of colourful kites of every possible shape and size. And I am here to discover the Kitemaker’s trail in Ahmedabad. As I sit gasping for a breath and simultaneously praying that I come out alive of this dangerously adventurous auto rickshaw ride through the serpentine traffic-laden streets of Ahmedabad, I realise no matter how modern or advanced a city may become in India somewhere within its echelons you will find its truest Indian nature. Jamalpur feels like a surreal transition from a modern and organised dwelling of Ahmedabad to an insanely zigzagged and crowded vicinity that is surprisingly very vibrant.

The Kitemaker's Trail

The age-old buildings of Jamalpur

At this point, I must tell you about Ahmedabad’s roads, specifically in the old city or the busy market areas. Apart from the numerous other things Ahmedabad is famous for, it is the roads that caught my fancy. Of all the things it can do to your heart, it will surely leave it pounding with a new-found gratitude for life. The traffic is crazy here that strikes a balance between dangerous yet surprisingly controlled.

The Kitemaker's Trail

Meanwhile in Jamalpur

Sit in an auto rickshaw to completely understand what I mean. These drivers could give any F1 driver a run for their money. Just when you thought you were probably being tailgated by a bunch of other cars or autos (which is normal) a bike just snakes in from nowhere forcing your driver to brake so strong that you may end up hugging him from behind. So, sit tight save yourself from the embarrassment. On that note try crossing the road here! Good luck with that!

Jamalpur and its enigma

Jamalpur is the reflection of Ahmedabad in the pages of its history. Flanked by shops selling kites of every colour, shape, theme, material to other paraphernalia required for the sport of kite flying, this neighbourhood is an absolute stunner. The age-old buildings have witnessed history. The smiling faces of absolute strangers, women shying away from the camera to children focussed on flying their kites high above the sky, Jamalpur is captivating in every aspect.

The Kitemaker's Trail

Jamalpur in its truest form

As a reflex, I look above to see a group of people shout “Kai po Che” from the terrace of a high-rise building just when a bunch of kids hurriedly cross the road almost colliding with me racing to loot the toppling piece of paper. This is the very art of Patangbazi and Patang Loot. Patangbazi is the art of kite flying which includes soaring a kite high above other opponents and slitting their manja or the string. And if you succeed in cutting through the manja of the others you must shout in unison ‘Kai Po Che’ which means “I have cut”. I realise this is probably where kites became more than just an activity. Jamalpur has kites in its genes.

The Kitemaker's Trail

Kitemaking in genes

The Kitemaker’s Trail.

The shopkeepers here have been making, selling and improvising kites since forever. Kite making is a perfect example of division of labour. If one is behind the excellent designs then there is another who excels in snipping them into perfect shapes and sizes while there are some who surpass the skill of sticking the bamboo ribs on the kites. The procurement of the materials is also varied. Some source the paper locally, the thread for the Manja may be sourced from Kolkata while the bamboo is essentially sourced from Assam and the Phirki comes from Bareily.

A shop in Jamalpur selling kite-flying paraphernalia.

Jamalpur is one of the prime neighbourhoods where kite making is an age-old industry. It has been carried down as a legacy in most families here. You will see members of an entire family engaged in the making and selling of these vibrant pieces of paper. Kite making is a 175 Crore Industry in Ahmedabad alone. Despite being an unorganised sector it has managed to generate plenty of revenue for the state as well as provide a significant source of livelihood to the locals.

Manja – The Significant Other

After having seen the colourful mayhem of the streets of Jamalpur I enquire about the Manja, the significant other of the Kites. Manja is the string used to fly kites. It is a highly tensile string coated in a mixture of several ingredients that give it its characteristic strength.

The Kitemaker's Trail

Spinning of a Manjha

My enquiries lead me to the Ashtodia Darwaza. Once a significant gateway to the city in the earlier times, Ashtodiya Darwaza has still managed to hold on to its old world charm. However, the roads in this part of the city are another spot for absolute pandemonium. This is where you will find most of the Manja makers in action.

The Kitemaker's Trail

Ashtodiya Darwaza and its mayhem

In conversation with one such woman pro in spinning spools of manja, I realise they aren’t really locals. Many people flock to this part of the country just before the Uttarayan kicks in to grab their share of income by making Manja or assisting in other kite making activities.

The Kitemaker's Trail

People from all over the country come to Ahmedabad during Uttarayan in search of some income

Another Manja maker boasts of his premium quality Manja by giving details of the ingredients he uses. He uses a mixture of water, aloe vera gel, sabudaana (tapioca pearls), saras (possibly animal glue), fevicol (an industrial adhesive) and marble stone powder to coat the Manja. The saras helps in the binding of the ingredients. The aloe vera gel renders the shine on the surface of these threads. The marble powder gives the required tensile strength. He claims his USP is that he uses marble powder, unlike other manufacturers who use glass powder to coat the Manja.

The Kitemaker's Trail

The cotton threads being dipped in the colourful mixture of ingredients

Spools of cotton threads are dipped in a mixture of the above-mentioned ingredients and mixed with colours. The thread passes through the colourful mixture and spirals around another rotating pulley. Once complete these colourful spools of threads are further hand spun around a second pulley called the Phirkhi and the Manja is ready for use.

The Kitemaker's Trail

Manjha making in process

Apparently, glass powder coated manja causes comparatively graver injuries to the kite flyers fingers than the marble powder coated ones. The glass powder coated manja is lethal to not only humans but also to birds, animals and the environment. In December 2016, a month before the kite flying festival, the National Green Tribunal banned the use and sale of such manjhas hazardous to life and environment all over India. Despite such measures, glass powder still finds its use in the kite flying industry.

The Kitemaker's Trail

The Hands of a Manjha maker

I had a wonderful opportunity to visit Ahmedabad during the International Kite Festival 2017 as a part of my first FAM Trip. Uttarayan is the perfect time to catch the vibrancy of this amazing city of Gujarat. With kites of every possible colour and kind filling up the skies and streets Ahmedabad is a painting of colourful cornucopia during this time. Kites have permeated into the very lives of people in Ahmedabad. Uttarayan is not just a festival and kite flying is not a mere sport here. The Muslim families have been creating these pieces of wonder since centuries now for a Hindu Festival. That is something which heralds how Kites have managed to create a fellowship among the people of Ahmedabad regardless of their religion.

The Manjha makers.