9 Sep 2005

Kites

While on a casual stroll a few days back, I was pleasantly surprised when a big black kite fell just ahead of me. It instantly revived memories two decades old.

As a kid I raced to the terrace to greet the first ray of dawn, with an assortment of kites and the related paraphernalia: reels fully wound with twine and maanja (coloured twine coated with powdered glass); a handful of leftover rice from the night, which served as glue for torn kites; and optionally a younger assistant, to hold the reel, while I manipulated the string.

The kites came in different shapes, sizes, and colours. The majority were, however, square shapes made of thin coloured paper with a skeleton of two bamboo reeds placed like an arrow strung on a bow. The tail was either a tassel of thin paper strips, for smaller kites, or a triangle, for bigger ones.

Sometimes the kite proved stubborn during the initial lift off, especially when there was no breeze. Like a deflated balloon, it flopped to the base after the tug, pull, and release of the string. These failed attempts were however viewed as knocks on the wind's door; those devoted to kites should learn to be patient with the wind God. And the wind relented after all, gathering the kite in its arms and carrying it higher and higher toward the clouds.

As the kite went up, I gleefully watched the uncoiling thread twirl the reel with the finger like extensions passing through my lightly clenched fists like an axle. After attaining a certain height the kite is an obedient puppet at the end of its master's string. I made it dance, swerve, and dip; dive like a perfect 10 gymnast; soar majestically like an eagle; or simply stay put in mid air.

Additionally, I participated in kite wars where the maanjas of two different kites tried to severe each other. The orphan kite then meandered down, even as a group of noisy children armed with sticks and branches ran behind to catch it. In a bid to "own my prey" I often entwined the orphaned kite's string with mine and slowly brought it down, the operation akin to spacecraft docking.

Bay Area View

(Sometime in October 2003)
Today we went out in the late evening with Sharat. He took us on a long drive through the Calaveras Mountains. There is a circular route carved through the hills for bike riders though cars can also make use of it. The road was always narrow and winding sharply all along, with the fear of veering off the edge and plunging into the unknown always looming ahead of us.

Yet the sight of animals in the ranches flanking the narrow road was so refreshing. It was such a welcome relief, watching the other animals after dealing weeks and weeks with only workaholic humans. We spotted a couple of horses in stables near the foot of the mountains. Higher up there were cows grazing peacefully, with calves bounding towards their mothers as night drew nearer. The cows here have a thick coat of dark fur, apparently to fight the cold winters.

Occasionally a deer would spring down to the wooden fence bordering the road and throw curious glances in our direction with its big black eyes. We started on a 2 lane road at the foot of the mountain but the 2 lanes gradually merged into one. However Sharat proved to be an expert driver as he negotiated the curves of the road smoothly, like a figure skater on ice.

The best part of the trip was when at the highest point of the road. We parked the car and came out to a breathtaking view of the entire Silicon Valley. To our right was San Francisco, with the huge silvery sheet of the bay absolutely calm in the twilight; one could have so easily mistaken it for a big piece of land polished and shone diligently. We could also make out the bay bridge joining Oakland to SFO, like closely spaced twin ribs against the body of the bay. To our left was San Jose with the high rise downtown buildings like match box constructions from that height. And in between were the Sunnyvales and Cupertinos, the Mountain Views and Santa Claras, all so tranquil in the fading light.

The entire bay area (barring the outlet to the ocean) is surrounded almost circularly by hills – the reason it is called Silicon Valley. At the time of viewing, the Sun was behind a patch of clouds, just preparing to dive below the horizon. Shafts of sunlight stole through sometimes, bathing a patch of land below in pale orange. Most of the surrounding hill ring appeared to be a high plain solid gray wall with a jagged top, since sunlight wasn’t illuminating the hills directly and we couldn’t make out the individual contours and folds.

You have to view the bay from that precise point to appreciate that the heart of the world IT industry is in a valley.

The return journey was no less exciting. Our car hurtled down a steep incline of a road, like a roller coaster. No sooner had Sharat jammed on the brakes than a strange rubbery odor filled the car interiors and a wispy white smoke emanated from the front. We stopped immediately and parked the car in a gas station. A preliminary inspection revealed that the brakes had overheated. We let it cool down and cooled off ourselves by sipping on some hot French Vanilla coffee available in the nearby store.