In a country where millions of kites are churned out every year to live out their brief, ephemeral lives doing battle in the skies before being reduced to a scrap of tissue paper and two thin strips of bamboo, the kitemakers themselves are almost always totally anonymous. Babu Khan was the exception. A kite made by Babu was a treasure, for Babu Khan was a kitemaster – one of the finest kitemakers in India.
I was introduced to Babu Bhai, as he was affectionately called by everyone, by my childhood friend Masrur Ali Sayed. Mas and I grew up together in Jaipur and often spent Makar Sankranti flying from the same rooftop, competing amongst ourselves to see who could cut down more kites. Masrur always won.
Back then we were just like all the other kite-crazy kids. We bought our kites and manjha from the little kite shop down the street which was basically a cycle repair shop but, like a lot of little neighborhood shops, would also stock kites during the kite season. In choosing our kites we were more concerned with the colors and the design/pattern than where the kites originated. Sure, we checked the flex of the bow and the spine but often the kites wouldn’t fly right – some turned limp and sluggish, some kept veering to one side. We’d take them down and try our own remedies to fix them. The limp ones were strengthened by another strip of bamboo added to the spine, the ones that wouldn’t fly straight got a wad of chewing gum or a bunch of string knotted on the bow on the side opposite to which they veered, and if that didn’t work we’d just try to get them up somehow and into a tangle so that they’d be cut and become somebody else’s problem!