Hyderabad: Measuring the size of the thin violet paper on wooden cardboard, Prakash Singh (72) starts the process of making a kite.
Next to him are bundles of different coloured papers. To his left is his younger daughter Lakshmi Bai who is tying the thread to the corner of the kite. Sitting in the middle is Durga Bai, Prakash Singh's wife, who is folding the excess paper and pasting it with glue.
The eldest daughter, Renuka Bai, is trying to organize the kites so that the kite bundle doesn't mix with the other bundles. Next to her is her brother Mahesh Pal who is cutting the extended wooden part of the kite with a knife and giving the kite back to his sister Renuka to keep it in the bundle. "Earlier, children used to play with kites and latoo (spinning top) but now everyone is busy on their mobile phones," says Prakash Singh. "Children now like video games," he adds.
Prakash Singh small house has an asbestos roof and is located in the upper Mangalhat road of Dhoolpet, one of the localities in Old City, Hyderabad. Dhoolpet is famous for ganja peddling and is the home of Ganesha idol makers and as well as of kite makers.
The entrance of Prakash Singh's house opens onto one of the rooms where the family works 365 days to make kites. Every family member starts at 10 in the morning and ends their daily work by 8 in the evening. "While we are working, one of our daughters cooks food for us. We continuously try to work," says Durga Bai.
A small room in which the family is working is filled with kites, paper, wooden sticks, and glue. "These kites go to Kolhapur, Nizamabad. Sellers from all over Hyderabad want our kites. Sometimes, businessmen come directly to my home or sometimes we go to them and deliver these kites," says Prakash Singh.
Kite business picks up before the Makar Sankranti festival. "By the time of Makar Sankranti, we sell out all our kites," adds Singh.
A family-run business
"I was born in this house. This is my ancestral home. My grandfather made this and with time we have renovated it. This house is more than 100 years old. My father also used to make kites. I am making kites from the age of 12. It has been around 60 years that I have been making kites," Prakash Singh says while sitting on a small green mat. In the 200 square feet land, they have two rooms with asbestos roofs.
They work in one room while in the other, they keep their old stuff. The women also cook food in the second room. On the walls hang bags, like bags hanging outside the window of a train, containing items they use regularly.
The family makes four different types of kite. The biggest ones sell for Rs. 2,000 for 100 pieces while the smallest ones, sell for Rs. 500 for 100 pieces. The other types of kites sell for Rs. 600 and Rs. 1,000 for 100 pieces.
It cost around Rs. 1,500 to make 100 big kites while 100 pieces of small kites cost around Rs. 300. To make 100 pieces of Rs. 1,000-kites, it cost Rs. 700-800. The kites priced at Rs. 1,000 are in high demand. Shopkeepers sell these kites at a profit of Rs. 4-5 per piece.
"Earlier, the cost of making a kite was very less. The raw paper used to be cheap. The profit margin was high but now we have to pay more for paper and demand is limited. So, we are unable to make much profit," says Prakash Singh.
The children stopped going to school after a certain period of time. "I studied till class 5. Didi didn't go to school and bhai studied till class 8. We will send our kids to school," says Lakshmi Bai.
"Because of the work we have, we cannot afford to send the kids to school," adds Durga Bai.
Their ancestor came from Allahabad during Aurangzeb's time to fight the Osman Ali Khan army of Hyderabad. They stayed here. They belong to Lodhi Rajput caste, a backward community.
"My ancestor started making kites and we carried it on. Every year we invest Rs. 5 lakh but get only Rs. 1 lakh profit. We survive with this money only. I applied for Rs. 1 lakh loan but the bank rejected our application," says Prakash Singh.
He adds, "We used to be the only kite maker in this area. People from outside have also started coming now. They don't know how to make kites. They bring plastic kites here and sell it. We don't make plastic kites. It costs us more."
A bygone era
Prakash Singh says that while people still like flying kites, the passion which was there amongst the people and the kids are gone. "Smartphone, TV, and video games – all have turned up in the last few years. Kite flying has become secondary now and kids fly kites only on occasions due to which the kite business has gone," says Prakash Singh.
He adds that in the last two years, during the pandemic, the government, as well as the authorities, discouraged people from flying kites during Makar Sankranti which hit their business. "A few days ago I saw the news that when a few kids were flying kites, some police officers came and stopped them. What can we expect when authorities discourage people from flying kites? We will have to close down our business one day and come on the roads," says Prakash Singh.
Competition from Chinese manjhas
The Telangana government has imposed a ban on nylon and synthetic thread (manjha), also known as Chinese manjha, since 2017. Though it is prominent in many areas of the city, a person can buy these manjha easily. The ban exists in order to prevent harm to humans, birds, and other animals.
"You are saying that the Chinese manjha is banned but if you go to any shop in Begum Bazar or in Dhoolpet, you can get it easily. For the last 40 years, I am making manjha for kites in Dhoolpet, and after the arrival of the Chinese manjha, no one wants to buy the original manjha used for flying kites," said Inder Singh, a manjha maker in Dhoolpet.
He says that during the last 40 years, he used to start making manjha at least three months before Makar Sankranti. "But since 2016, we do it for three or four weeks. No one buys these manjha anymore," adds Inder Singh.
The police raids
Due to ban on Chinese manjhas, kite makers, as well as manjha makers, are always seen as people who sell manjha and police conduct cordon searches on their houses without any warrant. "Everyone knows I am a kite maker in Dhoolpet. Some days the police come to our house at midnight and start searching for Chinese manjha which we don't sell. Why will we sell manjha when we are making kites? But these police officers don't understand and come looking for manjha," says a kite maker on condition of anonymity.
A manjha maker also said that as Dhoolpet is known for ganja peddling, the police come and harass them. "If we sell ganja then why will we be involved in manjha-making where there is no profit? People like us become the face of crimes that we have not committed. My home has been searched at least thrice in the last two years for ganja," adds a manjha maker in Dhoolpet.