KiteLife Foundation head Rajesh Nair’s weekend workshop was about giving a modern twist to the traditional craft of kite-making
A 14-metre-long multicoloured octopus lay squished inside Rajesh Nair’s bag, its legs wrapped tightly around its head: just one of the many kites in the professional kite-flyer’s treasure trove. Nair was in Chennai over the weekend to hold a workshop on how to build and fly modern kites.
You are never too old to fly a kite; the workshop saw children, their parents and even grandparents in attendance. Kite-making had been given a modern twist in this session. The kites were not made of paper, but high-grade plastic. Isn’t that bad for the environment? Nair denied it, “Unlike paper kites, these kites are resistant… These are not one-time use and throw, you can fly one for ages and not damage it. And let’s be frank: which product does not have plastic these days?”
As founder of KiteLife Foundation, Nair has experimented with various shapes and materials, like cotton and ripstop nylon — the fabric used to make parachutes — to develop what he calls ‘the art of making kites’. “I have even used a two by two blouse piece at one point,” he says.
Having already cut the plastic into the desired body and wing shapes, Nair had simplified the process for beginners. He showed his students how to tape the pre-cut pieces to the main frame, in order to create air vents that would hold the kite afloat. That was followed by creating bridles on either bottom side, and then looping thread through it. Though plastic kites call for sticking plaster, Nair recalled a time when he and his friends would use boiled rice as glue to make paper kites.
From his days of boiled rice and bamboo sticks, Nair has come a long way: this was his 651st workshop, he claimed. Since 2011, he has been a part of international kite-flying festivals and exhibitions in Kenya, Korea, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai and more; as if flying country to country on the wings of his kites.
Pa’s day out
Back in this Chennai workshop, like in every summer project ever, here too was one particular father — sweating, entangled in thread and cellotape — who ended up having to make both his and his daughter’s kite. His daughter, having taken a couple of photos of the unfinished kite, soon lost interest and found her mobile phone more worthy of her time.
Nair’s childhood, on the other hand, couldn’t have been more different. He recollected how he would spend his days flying kites in the paddy fields and beaches of Kozhikode. “My father made me my first kite when I was seven. It was made out of one of those Matrubhumi calendar pages that we used to have. He probably wanted to teach me numbers with it, but all I wanted to do was fly the kite,” he laughed.
Nair had better luck with children on Sunday: they were so excited about having built their own kites, even the heavens opening up for the city’s first shower of the season could not contain their enthusiasm to fly.
The finished product looks nothing like the barfi-shaped kites we know and love. Says Nair, “Since childhood, we are taught: ‘K for kites’... That one tailed shape,” he traced a diamond with his finger, “is all we have in our heads when we think of them.” This is what Nair hopes to change through the workshop: the kites made here don’t need a tail, and vaguely resemble a bat.
In fact, aeronautical engineering is a field that has held Nair’s interest for long; he has always wanted to build a plane. “When you can’t shoot for the moon, you have to be happy with the stars. The kites are my stars,” he smiled