Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Kite-fighting is a popular sport in many parts of the world, particularly Asian countries. The contests usually involve cutting down the opponents' kites, so the string is usually coated with an abrasive:
"Probably the most important aspect of the kite is the string used to anchor and eventually cut the opponent's line. Kite fighters around the world have come up with ways to strengthen and sharpen their strings to ensure that a slight graze sends the rival kite into a tailspin. In Afghanistan a mixture of powered glass and glue is pasted onto the string and this makes it razor sharp. Across Asia a similar paste of ground glass and glue is applied to a thin but strong hemp line. Synthetic lines, which are similar to fishing lines, have become popular in recent times and metallic lines are used in some instances as well. To avoid getting injured hands fighters usually use ordinary string for the length that is expected to be handled and the abrasive string is used closer to the head of the kite."
Japan is known for its many kite festivals. The 2-day Sanjo Great Kite Battle (pictured) - held in Nigata prefecture, 2 hours from Tokyo - is one of many events, some of which involve teams and the forcing down (rather than cutting) of the fighter kites. In India, kite-fighting is practiced year-round, but is particularly popular on holidays. In Afghanistan, the obsessive sport of kite-fighting has been taken up again with a vengeance, since flying kites was banned under Taliban rule. Although largely off-limits to females, the colorful kites are an "unexpected and wonderfully incongruous" sight in the war-torn country, says the New York Times.

In neighboring Pakistan, kite-fighters are just as passionate, but the annual Basant festival has met with some problems. A 2003 ban on kite-flying, which interrupts Lahore's electrical supply, has been lifted each year for the occasion. But in 2007, more than 100 people were injured and 11 died - some as a result of sharp kite string. And in 2008, the centuries-old festival was postponed after the assassination of Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto (1953-2007), then cancelled altogether out of fears of terrorist attacks. "How can we ignore the deaths of innocent people to celebrate anything?" asked city spokesman. As far as I can tell, the fighting kites have never officially gotten off the ground since then. For the past several years, a kite festival has been held by the Pakistan Information and Cultural Association in Gilbert, Arizona, but the American version of Basant allows only harmless string. In fact, the U.S. is known for a style of kite-fighting - and an annual championship - that practices "line-touch," rather than severing strings. But people of many cultures still practice their traditional forms of kite-fighting and have done so in New York since the 1960s.

You don't have to tell that to Jared Kopeloff. The 12-year-old was skateboarding between 2 buildings in Queens in October 2009 when, he says,
"I heard a noise like bees. I thought I went into a beehive. Going down, I felt something on my neck." He had ridden into a glass-encrusted kite string that was hanging down from the roof after having been severed in a duel in nearby Flushing Meadows Park. He was thrown to the ground with the wire buried in his neck and is now scarred ear-to-ear by a laceration that took 400-500 stitches to close.

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