Lahore, July 13: Lahorians are flying off the handle over a ban on a substance that the government feels is injurious to health: no, not cigarettes, but kites.
Last month, the administration of Lahore, where flying kites is more a way of life than a mere act of leisure, slapped a three-month ban on the activity. But faced with the fact that the ban is being flouted by some Lahorians with impunity, the government has now unleashed a posse of crack teams in the city to round up errant residents.
Early today, 30 special police teams fanned out in different parts of Lahore to apprehend both fliers and manufacturers of kites. Reports said several policewomen — all members of the crack teams — had been authorised to hunt for criminal kite fliers on terraces.
Kites, a government official says, have been banned because they are lethal. In recent months, there have been several instances of a kite’s sharp thread, coated with shards of glass and sometimes reinforced with a metal wire, causing serious injury or even death to passers-by.
“On many occasions, people on motorcycles have been critically wounded by a swooping kite and its thread,” says an official of Pakistan’s information ministry. Recently, even a senior official of the ministry fell prey to a kite. “When the officer came for work, we saw that he had deep gashes on his face — all caused by a kite,” says the government official. “We told him that he was lucky that it didn’t cut his throat.”
The other serious problem that kite flying poses in Lahore is the impact it has on the city’s power supply. The sharp thread, together with the wire, gets entangled with wires, causing electricity lines to trip.
Since the ban, a local newspaper says, the power situation has improved substantially. Water supply from tube-wells — adversely affected by the power breakdowns — has also improved.
But for most Lahorians, a stable supply of power is no reason to give up flying kites. For the city revels in unfurling kites into the sky — an activity that is at its peak during the Basant festival but is a favourite pastime through the year.
Lahore’s kites come in all kinds and colours and often carry messages — ranging from the simple “I Miss You” to the more demanding “Love Me”.
Kites can cost anything from Pakistani Rs 7 to Rs 500. Many believe that during Basant, celebrated after Id in February, crores of rupees are spent on kites.
That the city takes its kite-flying seriously is evident. A paper prepared by the Punjab Economic Research Institute states the kite-making industry is worth Pakistani Rs 349 million. Someone has even counted the number of kite sellers in the city. There are 435 seasonal and 130 permanent kite shops, the paper reports.
Last year, kite producers sold about 28 million kites. In the peak season, 21,000 metres of thread are produced every day for flying kites.
The city’s kite lovers are convinced that the ban on flying kites cannot be enforced for long. “I expect it to be lifted soon,” says Babar, an optimistic Lahore resident.
But the anti-kite lobby has been pressing for an extension of the ban, arguing that the power industry’s losses far outweighed the kite sector’s profits.
While the government does some serious number crunching, the city is divided on whether the ban ought to be extended. But the answer, clearly, is blowing in the wind.