Fight Kites at Kolkata Skies Trail Deadly Stings
KOLKATA: Palash Das has managed to sell around a third of its kites this year. “Usually I have more sales and sometimes I have to source kites from other kite manufacturers. But it’s still better than last year.
Das has operated a newspaper and tea stand in southern Calcutta for 15 years. He adapts his goods to the time of year. “When Holi comes we sell gulaal and water balloons, at Diwali we get firecrackers and lights,” he says.
At this time of year, Vishwakumar Puja brings up an annual concern for the Kolkata police. Apart from the celebrations which last 2-3 days, the days before and after the festival leave it to the police to prevent and deal with kite-related accidents.
“You see, people won’t buy the manja [kite-string] if it’s not a bit sharp. We don’t sell the Chinese stuff, but if our manja is just string, no serious kite will buy it, ”says Das.
“Customers will unwind the thread and check it closely to see if it meets their requirements. They hold it out and touch it with their finger. If they hurt themselves, they’ll say “yes, that’s what I want”.
“It’s our business. We try, we follow the rules, ”he says.
The festival is very popular among local laborers and transport workers.
“We collect money from households in the neighborhood with the help of local clubs and organize a small pandal every year,” says Shibu, recalling this year’s festivities.
“We were looking forward to it because we know we won’t be able to really enjoy Durga Puja with all the restrictions. We rikshaw shooters celebrate during Vishwakarma Puja more than at Durga Puja – we are still on duty at that time.
While they only buy kites to decorate their pandals, Shibu agrees that “it’s risky for those of us who drive open vehicles. The buildings here are mostly low so people don’t fly kites. But in areas with taller buildings, rikshaw shooters also encountered accidents. “
During Vishwakarma Puja, the sky fills with multicolored kites, and the rooftops are spotted by competitors who team up in pairs – one to steer the kite and the other to manage the reel – children and adults, engaging in kite fights.
Manjas are typically and traditionally made with cotton yarn and laced with crushed glass, so it is best to cut the strings of a rival kite to eliminate it from a competition.
For pedestrians and riders, however, the manja’s string is very thin and is often difficult to spot even at short distances. Many have walked or climbed directly into these powdered glass laced ropes that hang down at ground level, seriously injuring themselves.
It is also common to see birds getting injured or tangled in these strings during this time of year.
This year, the Kolkata Police took active steps to address these kite-related accidents.
“We have also organized briefings for all officers and officers at Lalbazar police station and surrounding stations,” said DCP for South Kolkata Akash Magharia.
He says these are the most popular areas to fight kites. “They also see most of these accidents. We receive less of such reports from other areas, but every station is aware of this risk around Vishwakarma Puja. “
Arnab Gupta, 22, a frequent flyer when Vishwakarma Puja rides, remembers seeing a man admitted to hospital after being injured two years ago.
“I think this man was not from that region,” he said. “Everyone in our building is careful these days. Some aunts put the plants inside so that the manja does not get tangled in the leaves when it falls.
The man was on his bike and looking at his phone at the time, and didn’t notice the broken manja string that had draped over two balconies facing each other.
“He came straight up and the string caught him right on his nose. He fell and there was a cut across his face. People around took him to the hospital urgently because the string could be dirty and there were certainly glass particles. Otherwise, he wouldn’t bleed like he was.
He proudly points out that this was the year his kite was still second to last out of the 11 that started competing.
There have been a number of similar accidents in Calcutta this year, where motorcyclists or cyclists rode at high speed in a kite rope loop and suffered serious injuries as a result.
Police say that’s why, during the puja, they planned to use surveillance drones over Maa’s flyby and connection flyovers.
Police do not monitor whether kite vendors are selling the safest type of rope. It was in 2017 that the National Green Tribunal declared a nationwide ban on life-threatening nylon and glass ropes. Since then, states like Maharashtra have seen a growing number of bird deaths after an increase in kite flying when pandemic restrictions were relaxed.
And in Calcutta, police in Nadia had to stop a group of seven kites after repeated incidents of people suffering from deep cuts caused by ropes in the area. Vidyasagar Setu alone has had three such accidents this year.
Every year a wholesale kite market is set up in Jadavpur in anticipation of Vishwakarma Puja. Many stores around Calcutta – Tollygunge, parts of Salt Lake, Topsia report getting their stocks in advance from vendors in Jadavpur market.
“It’s both traditional and competitive, kite flying. And to win you need sharp ropes. That’s the problem, ”says Arnab Gupta.
For many people, the kite is fun because it is competitive, he explains. “They won’t go out to fly the kite if there aren’t other kites on that day.”
Considering the risk, is he ready to give up the sport?
“I don’t know if I could get used to it. I love to fly and cut the ropes on other kites. But I also don’t want to be responsible for someone who ends up in the hospital. So maybe I would.