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Kite flyers caught in power lines
- Citing short circuit, Mumbai utility pulls plug on dying ritual

Mumbai, Jan. 15: Kite flying — already an endangered pastime — may soon be confined only within the four walls of the Bombay Stock Exchange.

On the eve of Makar Sankranti, marking the beginning of Uttarayan (the Sun’s northward journey, or winter solstice) — traditionally the time for flying kites in parts of western India — BSES, Mumbai’s power utility, has issued a dire warning.

It has threatened kite flyers with prosecution if their colourful paper birds on strings are seen flapping about anywhere near transmission towers and overhead cables.

“We are least bothered about what BSES has to say. We’ll fly our kites,” declared an enthusiast, Dhananjay Kolpe.

With tall buildings shutting the sky out, Mumbai is a harsh city for anything — except perhaps ambition — struggling to soar. Kite flying, a hangover from a feudal India of open fields, has been all but completely grounded anyway, though it retains its popularity in other western states like Rajasthan and Gujarat, particularly on Makar Sankranti.

As a result, Pidilite Industries, a Mumbai-based adhesive manufacturer, has stepped out of the city of sponsorships to hold international kite festivals in Jodhpur, Agra and Goa.

BSES’ blow to the annual ritual sprang from incidents of electrocution when the strings touch overhead wires. Some daredevils even climb transmission towers to extricate their kites caught in the tangle of wires.

Whatever the reason — many would say it’s valid enough — the irony is probably lost on BSES that if it hadn’t been for kites, it wouldn’t have been in business. American diplomat and scientist Benjamin Franklin experimented with kites to investigate atmospheric electricity.

It’s not the risk to life alone that’s bothering BSES and other power utilities — accidents mean shutting down power supply and consequent consumer wrath.

“Short circuit may also result in interruption of electric supply to the suburbs of greater Mumbai which may remain interrupted for a long time,” BSES reasoned.

“All the people are hereby informed that they should not indulge in the above acts and also prevent others from carrying out such acts in order to maintain uninterrupted electric supply to Mumbai,” the notice added.

How serious is it about action against “violators”' Not a great deal, it would seem. “We are just fulfilling our statutory requirement,” a BSES official said.

“We will do our duty and it is for them to adhere to it,” he added. Performing this duty meant placing a tiny advertisement in a nondescript corner of one — not the most popular — newspaper.

“We understand their (kite flyers’) problem, but what can we do'” said BSES officials.

In other years, BSES warns kite flyers through posters in public places: this time it added the ad.

An official of Tata Power, also a supplier in Mumbai, confirmed his company was also trying to educate people about the hazards of kite flying. “We will do it through advertisements and posters, etc.”

Kite flyers may take consolation that it’s not their flights of fancy alone that disturb the power utilities. “It is also dangerous to tie cattle or other such animals to the tower legs,” the BSES notice said.

Take heart, Mumbaikars, there are no restrictions on kite flying — also known as speculation — on the stock exchange.

True to defiant Kolpe’s words, yesterday the city’s western suburbs were alive with the cries of kite flyers — “gul ho gaya”, they shout when they cut the kite of a fellow flyer — but not so much the other parts. And even in the west, the kites were fewer than last year, as last year’s were fewer than the year before, and not because of BSES’ warning.

“Who has the time and the space to fly kites nowadays'” asked Yuvraj Kanthak.

Not kite, but concrete flies up towards the sky. Power transmission lines and television cables criss-cross the city across its length and breadth like a barbed wire fence.

Mumbai expands on the ground and is hemmed in at the top.

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