Cutting strings: The kite-seller who says no to basant

Published: April 2, 2015
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Hifazat Yar Khan offers an extensive variety of colourful kites donning different kinds of patterns and designs. PHOTO: AYSHA SALEEM

Hifazat Yar Khan offers an extensive variety of colourful kites donning different kinds of patterns and designs. PHOTO: AYSHA SALEEM

KARACHI: It comes off as a surprise when Hifazat Yar Khan vehemently voices his opposition to the idea of basant coming to Karachi. He has, after all, been selling kites in the city since 1968.

But Hifazat has seen the consequences of the blinding passion for basant in the Punjab. “Sindh never had the junoon [passion] for the kite that Punjab does,” he points out, adding that none of Karachi’s kite-sellers wanted the festival to come to town.

As spring makes its brief advent in the metropolis every year, a handful of private clubs invariably decide to celebrate basant in their premises. The elderly kite-seller from Empress Market’s Patang Gali, however, is adamant that the festival not only ruins the market, but also the people.

“Right now, all the kite-sellers and makers agree that no nylon, copper or dhaarti ka masala [abrasive glass mixture] are to be used for the string,” Hifazat explains. “Of course, there is always a black sheep; however, not only did we report those who refused to use only cotton string but also shunned them within the kite business community. The advent of basant would only take this out of our control.”

Hifazat Yar Khan offers an extensive variety of colourful kites donning different kinds of patterns and designs. PHOTO: AYSHA SALEEM

Hifazat had always wanted to study. While the lack of resources meant that his education had to be curtailed at Matriculation, he has made sure that all six of his children — four daughters and two sons — completed their graduation. “Educating them ensured that they do not have to rely on this business,” he said. “I was able to raise them with my earnings from selling kites but that is not possible today. Times have changed and so has Karachi.”

Karachi, he believes, is a country in itself. And Hifazat — who regularly puts up stalls displaying his wares, from golay wali patang to alif wali to tail wali, at clubs celebrating basant — has his own observations about the kite-flying habits of its inhabitants.

“Their interest in flying kites doesn’t last for more than an hour,” he laughs. “They toy with it for a while and some succeed in taking it high up in the air, but that’s all.” It’s a far cry from basant in the Punjab, which he says is a celebration akin to Eidul Azha.

There may be few Karachiites displaying an interest in kites but Hifazat is always glad to discuss the origin of his ancestral profession with those who do. “Do you know where kites come from?” he asks, before launching into a Chinese legend about a prisoner named Arastoo who invented a gigantic kite to escape his prison. “Later, kites were flown straight up in the air to measure the height of bridges under construction.”

Hifazat thinks things have been improving in Karachi over the last five months. But has this helped at all when it comes to selling kites? “Nothing can be done about that. Jab shoq hee nahi hai tou zabardasti tou nahi kar saktay na! [When people do not enjoy it, we can hardly force them, can we?]”

Published in The Express Tribune, April 2nd, 2015.

 

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