Mumbai: These days, the vibe at Imamwada Road, Dongri, swings between hope and gloom. Not that the area's oldest occupants, the patangwalas, will ever let you sense the latter — they heartily display wild, colourful kites, not their worry about plummeting sales figures.
Farhan Ansari, who owns Farhan Kite Centre says, "When, years ago, our fathers introduced us to kites, we thought we were the luckiest to be in this profession. I used to sell 30, 000- 50, 000 kites annually. This year, I have sold only 4000-5000." Ansari wishes he knew how to run any other business. "It is depressing to be sitting around these kites, hopefully smiling at passers-by but not really feeling it."
Across the street, Shaban Khan, however, says his wish is to be faster at mathematics. "At 81, I cannot keep up with the people and their bills at this 60-year-old shop's cash counter. I know some of my fellow patangwalas are having a tough time but the festival brings good luck every year," he says, just as a Rajasthani businessman stacks kites worth Rs9000 in a taxi outside his shop.
A tad philosophically, Khan says it is all because both Hindu and Muslim prayers are at work. Makar Sankranti may be a Hindu festival, but kite-making has always been a Muslim-dominated craft. "There was a time when thousands of karigars from Lucknow, Kolkata and Bareilly settled here for 4-5 months post July and made kites. That may not happen any more, because they cannot afford living here anymore, but it is still the Muslim community alone that so earnestly helps shape this vibrant Hindu festival," smiles Khan.
Dilip Kapadia, an avid kite-flyer, can identify with Khan's upbeat mood before the festival. "I am 76 years old and I have a 72-year-long, thrilling experience in flying kites in Mumbai." Currently at the Ahmedabad Kite Flying Competition, Kapadia, who founded the Golden Kite Club 37 years ago, says the disappearing passion for kites in cities doesn't deter him. "I'll continue finding my places, no matter how many towers and cables find their way into Mumbai. I was trained by an 'Ustad' patangwala at the age of four, and a part of that tutelage is to never lose a battle - whether it is with open spaces, or your enthusiasm."