Monday, June 16, 2014

Like a Bird In The Sky

Rajesh Nair has a lifelong passion for kites. Through his KiteLife Foundation, he tries to inculcate a love for the sport among youngsters

By Shevlin Sebastian

The sky was a bright blue. A slight breeze was blowing. Rajesh Nair felt confident. Slowly, he sent his kite skywards. It had a distinctive design: a temple with three conical roofs. This was a replica of the Dathathreya Anjaneya Temple in Desom, Aluva, Kerala, where Lord Hanuman is worshipped. “I am a devotee,” says Rajesh.

The spectators clapped. This was the first time they were seeing a kite like this. Rajesh was participating in the 4th International Kite Festival held, on April 12-13, at Uiseong in South Korea.

It is an impressive kite: the dimensions are 7ft in height and a wing span of 16 feet. In order to control the kite better, Rajesh had tied the string around his waist. “High up the sky, the weight of the kite goes up to 250 kgs,” he says. “That is because the wind cannot go through the fabric. ”

The kite rose higher and higher. Suddenly, a stiff breeze began to blow. It began to increase in speed. Soon, it reached 64 kms per hour. Rajesh tried hard to control the kite. Unfortunately, the inevitable happened: the kite crashed to the ground. Rajesh ran to see what had happened. One side of the bamboo spar had broken. But he knew that he could repair it. Which he did. And flew the kite again, to sustained applause from the spectators.

Later, he flew another kite designed as Mahabali, the benevolent Asura king, who is the symbol of the Kerala festival of Onam. So, you could see the crown, along with the black moustache, a protruding paunch and the umbrella.

When I take part in international kite festivals, in places like Borneo, Singapore or Dubai, I try to propagate our Indian culture through my designs,” says Rajesh. His attire is also traditional: at the inaugural ceremony, at Uiseong, he wore a purple silk shirt and a white dhoti, and placed a half-dhoti on his shoulder.

Rajesh's interest in kites began in his childhood in Kozhikode. His father taught him how to make his first kite. And thereafter, his passion deepened. “When you fly kites, you experience a sense of freedom,” says Rajesh. “It seems as if I am also flying in the sky along with my kite.”

Today, he no longer makes the typical paper kites that we all know of. Instead, he uses a nylon fabric called ripstop. “It is used in the making of parachutes, and does not tear easily,” says Rajesh. “If there is a tear it does not spread. It is used extensively in the kiting community.” However, ripstop is not available in India. Rajesh imports it from China at Rs 350 per metre.

After he has secured the fabric, Rajesh does the drawings. Then he cuts the cloth according to the lines of the drawing. Then bamboo spars are added.

But before that, the bamboo has to be treated carefully. “Every bamboo, when it is cut, is wet,” says Rajesh. “So you need to dry it in the sun. Then it turns into a yellow colour. Then I apply termite oil. It has two benefits. The termites will keep away, and the bamboo will bend beyond 90 degrees, without snapping.”

All this takes time. An average kite takes anywhere between one-and-a-half months to three months. “I work nights and on the weekends,” says Rajesh, who is a consultant on corporate social responsibility in many companies.

Asked the charm of making kites, Rajesh says, “You imagine any colour and that can be used. You design a shape in your mind and that can be shown. I have a fascination with folk songs and culture. I bring all those images to a kite.”

In fact, during a kite festival in Malaysia, Rajesh flew a kite resembling a theyyam dancer (theyyam is an ancient folk art of Kerala). The media was so enthralled that the 'Borneo Post' published a photograph of Rajesh flying the kite on the front page.

In 2010, Rajesh set up the KiteLife Foundation. Thereafter, he has held numerous workshops for children and adults alike, all over Kerala, to inculcate the joys of kite flying. In Thrissur, once, he taught 1200 students at a workshop.

The centre of kite-flying is in Ahmedabad,” he says. “I also want Kerala to develop a kite-flying culture.” 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)  

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