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Sale of season: kites in political colours

Congress versus BJP, Trinamul versus CPM! Go buy and fly the subject of primetime debates this poll season.

Ajit Dutta’s 30sq-ft shop on Santosh Mitra Square, India Kites, is selling kites with the symbols of all four political parties in Bengal scrambling to soar high on May 16.

Soon after dates for the Lok Sabha elections were announced on March 5, the regular kites have been stacked away on the back shelves. The seasoned scissors of Dutta and son Saikat were now spooling out kites bearing cut-outs of tri-coloured flowers, hammer and sickles, palms and lotuses.

These seasonal political kites are priced at Rs 10, against Rs 3 for the regular ones.

Dangling from the shop’s doorway, these kites swayed with the wind as if trying to gauge which way the voter mood would swing.

Unlike political pundits immersed in crystal ball gazing, Dutta and son shy away from any predictions or preferences.

“This is nothing more than a business. All my kites are of the same quality and fly equally high. What matters is the skill of the flier,” said 67-year-old Dutta, handing out by default a metaphorical advice to those manoeuvring poll strings.

The adjacent shop, Bengal Kites of Bablu Sen, is trying to go one up on the Duttas. It sells kites with Mamata Banerjee photos pasted on them. Sens do have the ones with party symbols too.

Dutta had made 24 kites of each party thus far. The numbers are likely to vary depending on the demand.

Prior to every election — be it municipal, state or general — party workers from across the political spectrum flock to the Dutta store with bulk orders. Kites are often hung on campaign vehicles and distributed.

The concept of using kites for publicity is a recent phenomenon. It grew wings only in 2006 after the election commission ordered political parties to refrain from defacing walls with graffiti.

“The parties needed an alternative and kites proved to be a cheap and acceptable option. These are distributed and people appreciated it,” said Dutta, who had opted out of his father’s fish trade to venture into kites in 1968.

Eta nesha theke pesha (This is passion turned into profession),” junior Dutta quipped from behind.

The ragged walls of the shop are decorated with framed certificates, medals, trophies and photographs — testimony to Dutta’s prolific career as a kite-maker.

He had been to Gujarat, the mecca of kite-flying in India, several times and has a photograph with former chief minister Chimanbhai Patel.

The kite-makers of Calcutta see a glimmer of hope for their struggling business in the oft-quoted “development story” of Gujarat in election 2014. “Modi is a Gujarati and loves flying kites. He even flew one with Salman Khan. If he becomes Prime Minister, we hope he will work for the development of our trade,” Saikat said.

The cost of making a regular kite is Rs 2.50. Paper, one of the three materials used along with sticks and glue, sells for Rs 520 a ream, up from Rs 380 six months ago.

Come June, the green, red and saffron kites will once again change colours and allegiances. The green and yellow of Brazil, the red of Spain and the saffron of the Netherlands! That’s the football World Cup season and one can expect the kites to be more colourful and the debates more feisty.