On a windy afternoon, the sky above Old Delhi is dotted with colourful kites and the atmosphere reverberates with cheerful banter, in the run-up to the celebration of India’s independence day.
People are crammed on to their rooftops, animatedly pulling kite strings and screaming “Ayi Bo” each time they succeed in fighting other kites.
Since the beginning of the month, this has been the scene in the historic walled city of the capital city where children, young men and pensioners gather on the rooftops of residential buildings and indulge in patang baazi — the kite-playing sport.
Kite flying has been a recreational sport for centuries in the country. People from all social strata fly kites, particularly during festivals.
But patang, as it is known in Indian, has a special place in the hearts of Old Delhi residents who see it as a symbol of India’s freedom struggle.
“It is not just a game; it is a feeling,” Mohammad Waqar Yunus, 22, told The National.
“A kite is a symbol of freedom as it freely flies in the sky. Because of this, kite flying has become a tradition here so we can feel our freedom on Independence Day.”
For decades, inhabitants of this part of the city have made it a tradition to fly kites to celebrate Independence Day on August 15, the date when India won its freedom from British rule in 1947.
Kites played an important role in India’s freedom movement
In 1929 they were used to protest against Britain's rule over the Indian subcontinent for two centuries. Freedom fighters wrote anti-colonial slogans on the kites and flew them in the sky as a mark of protest.
While India got independence after years of struggle, the sport intertwined with the culture of Old Delhi and became a tradition that is being carried forward by the younger generation, despite the arrival of modern sports and video games.
“I have seen this tradition since my childhood. We have learnt this from our grandparents. Kite flying is a tradition that has been passed on to children from generation to generation here,” Mr Yunus said.
Kites are believed to have been invented in China, where they were used to send messages during rescue operations.
They reached the Indian subcontinent through Buddhist missionaries from the East through the Silk Road and the activity became a sport during the rule of the Mughal emperors, primarily among the nobility.
In Delhi, kites were introduced during the reign of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, who also founded the Shahjahanabad city, the modern-day Old Delhi, in the 17th century.
Even today, the area has a dedicated kite market that brims with varied hues and sizes of kites throughout the year and receives customers from far-flung places.
Dozens of shops, some running for seven generations, line the market showcasing kites ranging from the size of a palm to a life-size human portrait.
“We have bought 100 kites. We want to celebrate the historic day by flying kites this year,” Saurabh Kumar, 22, a car mechanic, told The National.
A wave of nationalistic fervour has gripped the country and the government is encouraging citizens to celebrate the historic day in a grand manner, by hoisting the Indian flag on their homes, offices and vehicles.
While the tricolour is seen everywhere, from imprints on T-shirts to caps, the kite market is flooded with kites fashioned as the Indian national flag, bearing celebratory messages to mark 75 years of the country’s independence.
“There is a craze among people to celebrate 75 years of independence. People are purchasing lots of kites this year,” said Nitin Gupta, 45, who runs a fourth-generation kite shop in Lal Kuan.
Mr Gupta, 45, says he has been selling up to 2,000 kites a day this season.
“We are overjoyed with the sales, particularly because the business was dull due to the pandemic over the last two years,” he said.