Coloured paper left over from the school year (or if we had enough money, new sheets from a neighbourhood market); branches of a coconut frond stripped or sticks stolen from the household broom; homemade glue… all of this in plain sight more or less. 

Then came the sly work. In the narrow dingy space between the neighbour’s home and ours. Glass bangles from my place and old bottles from the trash crushed to powder. Rice or maida (stolen from one of ours homes) and water in an old Dalda can over a crude fire. A spool of thread strung, several times over, between the external plumbing pipe that connected the kitchens on every floor at home, and the window bar of the neighbour’s home. 

The pain came before the pleasure. Applying manja on the thread with bare hands, leaving behind fine cuts on our tender hands that stung for days. As the manja thread dried crisp in the Madras heat, the paper was cut to shape and size, the curved stick holding the breadth, the straight one holding the length. A long colourful tail designed from leftover bits.

Resident and visiting cousins, friends from the colony ~ all little boys except me and on occasions another girl cousin. The girls were tasked with the decorations, the stealing of glass bangles, the distracting of parents. Then up the ladder to the mottai maadi on the 3rd floor, in the hot Madras afternoons, when the adults at home napped. 

One little boy held the spool, one reined the manja thread, and a third jumped high giving the kite lift. Then as the lone boy flew the kite, the rest of us gave direction. Several more kites took to the skies. Other groups of cousins and friends from other streets. Other little girls standing by without protest?

Today, a few decades after my own summers on the periphery of kite flying, I watched this boy. He threw me a cursory glance before struggling to give his store-bought kite a lift.