Monday, January 10, 2005

Dying to Have Fun

Wow, this blog just had it's first anniversary. Cake, confetti, horns, firecrackers, etc.

Abez and I went on a small outing to the bank today. The weather is cool (60 F) and sunny. The Margalla Hills that ring Isloo are unusually smog-free and looking very majestic. Everywhere you look there are boys out flying kites in the gentle breeze. As a motorist, I have to be especially careful of crowds of boys running through traffic looking up to catch a falling kite. Lest you think this is the same idyllic pastime of western countries, think again. Kite flying here means kite fighting, kite hijacking and kite catching. Sometimes it means dying.

Kite Fighting: The object of kite fighting is to cut your opponent's kite free with a special glass-powder coated string. Two kites are flown into each other, the strings intertwine, the sawing motion of the handlers cuts one kite free. Ideally, the stolen kite is entangled and the winner is able to haul in his booty.

Kite Hijacking: For every kite flyer, there are a dozen kite hijackers, boys with strings coated with the same glass powder, weighted with a small stone - a langar, waiting on rooftops to cut your kite. They will hijack your kite by throwing their string over yours and with a few sawing jerks, cut the string and steal your kite.

Oftentimes, the cut kite flies free and is a much sought after prize for boys armed with sticks and branches to tangle the string and land the kite for themselves. There are boys standing in the middle of the roads flying kites and other boys running down the middle of the roads (and we aren't just talking about residential streets, but busy, major roads and highways) trying to catch kites that have been cut free.

It's nearly impossible to fly a kite here without it getting lost in a fight or hijacked in mid-air. In order to protect their precious 10 rupee kites, boys try to find isolated spots to minimize the possibility of theft. This is why boys stand on the side of the highways and busy roads.

Sadly, many boys die every year while kite flying or kite chasing. They often fly their kites with thin metal wire (illegally) to protect them from cutting, and get electrocuted by power lines. Both kite flyers and kite chasers fall off the flat rooftops, or get hit by cars as they run through traffic. It's really very tragic.

My daughter was just reminding me of how my son, once got his head cut open by a langar tossed by his cousin, how my husband almost got his throat cut by riding his motorcycle into a piece of glass coated string that was tangled across the road. His helmet protected him from death and he only got minor facial cuts. Others motorcyclists die from similar accidents every year. This kite flying is risky business for everyone.

In Lahore, there is a Spring kite festival, Basant, and the estimated money lost due to electrical blackouts caused by kites flying into power line is in the millions of rupees. About a dozen people die each festival.

As with everything in life there are risks attached. But why does a society cling to such a dangerous pastime? The children don't know any better, they don't know any other way. Many parents try to prevent their children from kite flying, but they often don't succeed for long. My own nephews, forbidden to buy kites, collected bits of glass string, tied them into langars and tried to capture a forbidden kite. As soon as a boy has a few rupees he will secretly buy a kite to fly from the rooftop. My own nephews used to secretly fly kites at night so their parents wouldn't find out. If kite flying can't be stopped, at least we should make it safer.

Why aren't the glass-coated strings outlawed? Why isn't kite safety taught in school and on TV via cartoon advertisements and other media that children watch? Police should break up groups of boys at intersections here they congregate to get a clear view of free flying kites. Why can't this sport be made safer before more children die this Spring? Innocent children, just dying to have fun.

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