Unable to soar high in city skies, kites made in Lahore and heading to new destinations
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
It’s about time when the people of Lahore used to celebrate Basant and the skys would be filled with kites of all colours and shapes. The event used to be the most festive of all celebrated by the Zinda Dilaan-e-Lahore (the live-hearted Lahoris) for many years.
But since the imposition of ban on kiteflying-which was termed a cause of deaths of many- the skys of Lahore have remained mostly clear of these flying objects. The people related to the profession of manufacturing and selling kites, dor (thread used in kite-flying) and accessories lost livelihood. Many of them have started other jobs or businesses but there are those also who are still unable to settle down.
A visit to the houses of some kite manufacturers revealed it to TNS that kites are still being produced, but in smaller numbers and a bit secretively. The markets, these manufacturers, say are cities other than Lahore and abroad.
One such destination is United Arab Emirates (UAE) where a Pakistani-origin man Haji Amin has been organising the festival for many years. The venues keep on changing as they have to look for open spaces which keep on shrinking due to the extraordinary pace of development there. The most recent venues have been Dubai-Sharjah Highway, Al Nahda, Sonapur, and Sharjah-Kalba highway.
A news report appearing in Khaleej Times on Feb 25, 2010 says Haji Amin had imported a container full of them but does not disclose the name of the exporting country.
Ashiq Ali, 45, a resident of Ghoray Shah, Lahore has an answer to that. He says the business cannot be done openly even if these kites are going to another country. His point is that the government should allow export of kites and dors to other countries like UAE and earn precious foreign export. “There should be no harm in this as everyone knows how strictly laws are enforced in that country.”
Ashiq tells they are approached by dealers to make kites, at their homes. “They provide us material like guddi kaghaz (crisp tissue paper, shehteer (bamboo splice) and glu and collect the kites once they are prepared.” He says they are advised not to show restraint in sharing details about the contract with others adding: “We have no idea where these stocks end up.”
While the enforcement of kite-flying ban is very much there in Lahore, the former kites’ dealers of the city say it’s much lax at places like Muridke, Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Karachi etc. Khawaja Basharat, a trader at Mochi Gate, says his family had been into kites business for ages but since 2005 they have switched their field of trade.
He tells TNS they used to provide home-based work to hundreds of kite manufacturers but now most of these use menial jobs to sustain their living. He says there are some players who still deal in these products but at the risk of police raids, arrests and public humiliation.
Basharat says one’s visit to Karachi reveals that kite sellers do their business openly and it’s from there these goods are exported to other countries like United Arab Emirates (UAE). Kites made in Lahore and around also reach this port city, he says adding though there’s no legal provision to do that some exporters manage to ship kites without declaring them. Kites have a good market there as the symbol of the biggest political and ethnic part in Karachi is the same, he says.
Basharat asserts the sport should be restored and violators of safety laws be dealt with severely. If manufacture of thick thread and metal twine, use of chemicals in dors and sale of oversized kites is checked properly, there would be no casualties, he adds.
Mian Tahir, a paper dealer at Ganpat Road Paper Market tells TNS that guddi kaghaz is available there in abundance. It’s sale cannot be checked as it’s also used to make decoration material like paper flowers, buntings etc and as gift wraps. He says India unleashed propaganda at global forums against the Basant of Lahore and benefited a lot from the ban. “Kite-lovers from all over the world have now started flying there to indulge this sport. They have recently released a film with the name of ‘Kites’ to market this event,” he adds.
Another regular customer of kites from Lahore is a community center in Sunnyvale, California, US with the name Pakistani American Cultural Center (PACC). The members of the center are mainly the Pakistani IT professionals working in the Silicon Valley and their families. Thousands of miles away from their homeland, they have access to the manja-coated thread and paper kites which have become a rare sight in Lahore.
PACC President and Trustee Farrukh Shah Khan tells TNS the Pakistani community in Silicon Valley has already started its planning for this year’s Basant mela. “Due to rain pattern here we celebrate Basant in mid may to avoid getting rained out on our event. This year it will be held on May 15,” he says.
He say they bring kites from Karachi, Lahore, Hyderabad (India) and Delhi. “This is because PACC and India Community Center (ICC) have joined forces to celebrate one big event locally instead of many small ones.”
On how the required material comes from Pakistan, he says: “We use a middle man importer who gets us the kites and door/charkhi. We tell him we need kites from Lahore or Delhi. It’s he who arranges the kite importing setup.”