In the fertile land of China, in the 5th century BC, a Chinese philosopher named Mozi is said to have invented the kite. It was an incredible invention at that time. People from Mongolia, India, Korea and Japan welcomed this invention too after some time. The time passed and a mere combination of strings and cloth turned out to be a very useful thing. Kite was deployed for a number of purposes, such as giving signals during the war, testing the force and direction of the wind, and of course as a recreation. In the 13th century, when, Marco Polo served in the court of Kublai Khan, he for the first time saw this thing and he was really impressed with it. When he embarked back on the journey to Europe with many other things and gifts, he took it along too. Finally, with him, it reached Europe. The 18th century began and kites became more germane than ever.

Many scientific experiments benefitted from it. The famous Wright brothers while conducting experiments and developing the earliest form of an aeroplane, used kites to formulate and garner initial facts.  In the 19th century during World War two, no considerable interest was shown in kites like before and the reason was the use of fighter aeroplanes that could do hundred times better job to gauge the air, lift things and give signals. After that kite was only used as recreation and a toy.

Early kites which Chinese and Mongolians used were made from fine silk and bamboo sticks. Later when it became popular in masses and was being used commercially, instead of expensive and rare silk, paper and sticks were used in the making.

In subcontinent Basant and kite flying were two separate things but later merged as one in many parts due to the certain influences.

Basant is a popular festival of the subcontinent, having deep roots in the history and legends; kite flying was however added afterwards. Basant in Hindu tradition, as the legend goes, is a festival known as Makara Sankarnt. It is celebrated every year on 14th or 15th of January, to see off the winters and welcome the warm sun. The epic of this legend is mentioned in Mahabharata in detail.

Maharaja Ranjeet Singh used to hold a festival every year, known as annual Basant Fair, in which kite flying was added later. In his durbar situated in Lahore, he and his wife, queen Moran would dress in yellow and celebration would last for ten to twelve days. A typical scene would include army showing their prowess by marching in front of the audience followed by acrobatic stunts, women singing merrily and in colourful attire swaying from the swings. Guru Gobind Singh, the last and 10th guru of Sikh religion, and founder of Khalsa army wrote a verse in which he also mentioned Basant.

That was a brief history of kite flying and Basant through ages, now talking about the blanket ban on kite flying which is contemporary, one needs to see it from not just the façade but in-depth.

In Pakistan, Basant was celebrated in late January or early February, when it wasn’t banned. The occasion was the arrival of spring and departure of cold winters. 

The recently imposed blanket ban on Basant by Chief Minister Shabaz Shrief on 7th of this month extends to whole of Punjab. There is little to doubt a threat or hazard which may arise as a consequence of this colourful and vibrant festival, but there are several reasons which in the past years have influenced this otherwise unharmful event of a single day to a very adverse extent of now. One may put the blame on Zia’s mentality, which is thriving and nurturing successfully in the current ruling party, but it is advised to also examine the shortcomings of our own society and our very own mindset.

In the late 1970s, the paper to make the kites was imported from Germany and thread to make the twine was imported from the United Kingdom, with time it stopped and both, paper and string started coming from India. New and cheaper techniques were given a try by the local kite makers in hope of giving the whole kite flying scene a little extra twist. But like in many other matters where an extra twist doesn’t yield good results, the same happened in this particular case and we the ever unwise, called upon us a great trouble.

The first reason and the most convincing of all is the use of twine and strings made of sharp glass and metal. The twine which comes from the addition of sharp glass particles is no less a deadly weapon than a well-sharpened razor. It can easily cut the throat on touching the exposed part of the neck. In 2007 when the Mayor of Lahore, Mian Amir Mehmood, lifted the ban on Basant for two days, a lot of incidents happened. People who were into kite flying more than a pastime took advantage of these two days and stacked up a great deal of forbidden twine to be used afterwards. The two days passed with many accidents, to which, the most prone were bike riders and pedestrians.

The problem with twine made from metal is as deleterious as it is with the twine made from glass particles. In our country, electricity wires run rampantly through the city and no care is taken of making another wire in a tower which supports transformer, to be dumped into the ground, so if by chance someone touches a naked wire, he should amount to minimum damage. People have died on the spot due to electrocution when their twines touched the electricity wires. In the many cases, children who were running after a stray kite to catch it faced the same fate as the string used was made from metal.

Many accidents which resulted in severe bodily injuries and in a few cases even death were caused when over enthusiastic kite flyers fell off from the rooftop. In Lahore, a few incidents were reported from rooftops. In a totally different case, a boy opened fire on his neighbour just because he dared to cut his twine and kite in the air with his own. This is the point where we should reflect that what we have become and how badly we have wrecked havoc to a festival, which used to be a source to spread joy and rekindle the spirit of camaraderie.  

The last vice of all which has inflicted the Basant festival is aerial firing. In 2007, when the ban was lifted for two days, police seized 282 illegally held weapons from Mozang area, alone.

The festival of Basant and kite flying was better when it was only confined to feasting and celebrating with approved assortments; the day it was exposed to all the blemish of aforementioned evils, it lost the case there and then. This remains an admitted fact that this festival after two Eids was a source of collective happiness, but the happiness should never be so expensive to cost even one precious human life.