Kite Flying Around the World (6) – The Kite Runner & Kite-Flying in Afghan Culture
September 8th and 9th this year are specially marked days for kite flying enthusiasts in Singapore. NTUC Income (the country’s leading composite insurer) sponsors the annual Kite Festival Singapore – a time for young and old to have some good clean fun. I thought this week would be a great opportunity to bring you “Kite Flying Around the World”.
Today I feature The Kite Runner, both the critically acclaimed novel and the award-winning film. We also get an in-depth look into Kite Flying in Afghan Culture.
The Kite Runner
-critically acclaimed novel by author Khaled Hosseini
-film adaptation by director Marc Forster
On one level, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is the story of two boys in Afghanistan and Afghan immigrants in America. It is a story set in a culture that has become of increasing interest to Americans since the September 11, 2001 attacks. On this level, it provides a good way for people to learn more about Afghan history and culture in the context of story.
Looking at The Kite Runner as a story about culture, however, misses what the book is really about. This is a novel about humanity. This is a story about friendship, loyalty, cruelty, longing for acceptance, redemption and survival. The core story could be set in any culture because it deals with issues that are universal. Read more on Bestsellers
‘Kite Runner’ Author On His Childhood, His Writing, And The Plight Of Afghan Refugees
Finding Neverland director Marc Forster adapts author Khaled Hosseini’s critically acclaimed novel about two childhood best friends forever torn apart as their country is ravaged by endless war and bitter strife. As children, Amir (Khalid Abdalla) and Hassan were inseparable; their long days under azure Kabul skies often spent getting into innocent mischief or preparing for the highly anticipated kite-fighting tournament. When the day of the tournament arrives, however, a glorious victory is quickly offset by a timorous act of betrayal that ultimately serves as the catalyst for catastrophe. Not long after that fateful day, Amir moves away to America, leaving his old friend behind just as the ominous specter of war turns tragically tangible. Two decades later, Amir returns to Afghanistan to find his beloved homeland has now fallen under the iron-fisted rule of the Taliban. Still, all hope for redemption hasn’t been lost just yet, because now that Amir stands face to face with the irrepressible secrets that he struggled so vigilantly to bury, he will receive one last chance to make peace with the past, and lay the groundwork for a brighter future. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi
I found this New York Times article that gives us an in-depth perspective of Kite Flying in Afghan culture..read on! (it’s a little long, but I promise you—it’ll be worth your while)
For Afghan boys and men,
kite flying is a way of life
By Kirk Semple
Published: Friday, December 14, 2007
KABUL — The kites appear suddenly, whimsical flashes of color that kick above this beige landscape of relentless dust and desperation.
They reveal themselves, like dragonflies, at the most unexpected moments: through the window of a grim government office, beyond the smoke curling from the debris left by a suicide bomb, above the demoralizing gridlock of traffic and poverty. To a new arrival in this chaotic city of three million, they are unexpected and wonderfully incongruous.
Banned during the Taliban regime, kite flying is once again the main recreational escape for Afghan boys and some men. (It still remains largely off-limits to girls and women.) And with the American release Friday of the film “The Kite Runner,” based on the best-selling novel of the same name, a much wider audience will be introduced to Afghan kite culture.
Following a kite’s string to its source will most likely lead to an Afghan boy standing on top of his roof or in an empty lot, playing the line in deep concentration.
But this is not the stuff of idle afternoons or, as in American culture, carefree picnics in the park. This is war. The sole reason for kites, Afghans will tell you, is to fight them, and a single kite aloft is nothing but an unspoken challenge to a neighbor: Bring it on!
The objective of the kite fight is to slice the other flier’s string with your own, sending the vanquished aircraft to the ground. Kite-fighting string is coated with a resin made of glue and finely crushed glass, which turns it into a blade.
The big kite-fighting day is Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, when thousands of boys and men flock to their rooftops and to the summits of the craggy hills that ring the city, carrying stacks of kites fashioned from bamboo and brightly colored tissue paper, and miles of sharp string on wooden spools.
On a recent Friday afternoon, there were scores of kites locked in duels above Tapeii-i-Maranjan, a high bluff in a southeastern neighborhood of the capital and the city’s most popular kite-flying venue. All strata of Kabuli life – male Kabuli life, that is – were well-represented: Schoolchildren were fighting ministerial officials, doctors were battling day laborers. They fought in teams of two, with one person tweaking the string and the other handling the spool.
Packs of boys too poor to buy their own equipment were sprinting after defeated kites as they fell to Earth. They were the kite runners.
“We don’t have, like, soccer, baseball or basketball,” said Ahmad Roshazai, a translator at a medical clinic near Bagram who was flying kites on the hill with two of his brothers. He had cuts on his fingers from handling the blade-like fighting string. “We don’t have any good places for that,” he said. “No green places.”
He added: “This is the only game we have every Friday. That’s it.”
The inveterate kite fighters speak of their craft as part science and part art. The key to excellence depends on a combination of factors, both empirical and ineffable: the flexibility and balance of the kites’ bamboo frames, the strength of the glue binding the tissue-paper skin, the quality of the string, the evenness of the spool and, of course, the skill of the fliers and their ability to adjust to the vicissitudes of the wind.
Rashid Abedi, 25, a business administration student, described the satisfaction of killing another kite.
“It has a taste,” he said, and he likened it to the thrill of horse riding or driving a car. “These things all the time have a special taste.”
“Even if I am cut 40 or 50 times,” he continued, “I will fly again because I know how the taste is.”
Kite-fighting string in Afghanistan was traditionally homemade by a laborious process that involved coating cotton string with a concoction of crushed glass and glue. But factories in other more-developed kite-flying nations like Pakistan, India, Thailand, Malaysia and China now churn out tens of thousands of spools of machine-made nylon fighting string that swamp the Afghan market.
Unlike in other Asian countries, like Pakistan and India, where kite-flying is wildly popular, Afghanistan’s kite industry is still homespun and humble. There is still no Afghan kite federation, no national competitions, no marketing. While nearly all the string sold in Afghanistan is now factory-made and imported from other countries, most of the kites are still made by local artisans.
By consensus in Shor Bazaar, a block-long market of tiny kite shops in Kabul, the best kite maker in the capital is Noor Agha, a slender and vain 53-year-old man who lives in a squalid mud-and-stone hovel in a cemetery and is missing most of his teeth.
“Nobody can beat me, nobody can do what I’m doing,” he said one recent afternoon as he sat barefooted on the carpeted floor of his workshop making a kite. “Even computers can’t beat me.”
His tools were arrayed before him: long stalks of bamboo and sheets of tissue paper; pliers and blades to cut and whittle the bamboo into long, flexible dowels for the frames; scissors to shape the tissue paper; and a bowl of glue.
“My prestige is higher than the interior minister,” he said.
Noor Agha, like most Afghan kite makers, inherited the craft from his father, who made kites until he was too old to grip the tools.
Alone he can make about 40 kites a day, he said. But his business has gotten so large that he has enlisted the help of his two wives and several of his 11 children.
While most kites in Shor Bazaar sell for less than the equivalent of 30 cents, Noor Agha’s kites can fetch upwards of $1. He sells custom-ordered kites to Afghan and foreign corporations and clients for much more, he said.
His local fame attracted the attention of the producers of “The Kite Runner,” who hired him to train the film’s child stars in the art of kite fighting and to make hundreds of kites used in the film.
For the kite-fliers of Kabul, the release of “The Kite Runner” will help to draw the culture of Afghan kite-flying out of the shadows of the much larger and more prosperous kite-flying nations in Asia.
It might also go some way toward explaining a particular Afghan kite ambush of an unsuspecting American kite-flier in Maryland in 2004.
That spring, Shoab Sharifi, a Colombia University student recently arrived from Kabul, was visiting Ocean City when he spotted several people flying kites on the beach. He bought a kite from a vendor and did what for him was the natural thing: He started to kite-fight.
“I thought people were doing it here, too,” he said in a telephone interview from New York.
Sharifi went on: “There was a little girl, and I did the maneuvers and cut her string from below.” As the wind carried the girl’s kite into the ocean, and Shoab celebrated his first kite-fighting victory on American soil, the little girl broke down in tears.
When the lifeguards descended on him and accused him of “disturbing the peace,” it dawned on Sharifi that he had stepped into a cultural rut between Afghanistan and the United States.
“In the United States, I think people try to avoid conflict,” he concluded. “In Afghan culture everything is about fighting.”
He added: “It was a very educational experience.”
“No one can liberate you, for no one has bound you; you hold on to the nettle of worldly pleasures and you weep for pain. The kite is pursued by the crows so long as it carries the fish in its beak, it twists and turns in the sky trying to last and it drops the fish.
That moment it is free.
So give up the attachment to the senses;
then grief and worry can harass you no more.”
Indian Spiritual leader (1926-2011)