Kabul's skies are once more filled with darting kites since the ban on kite flying imposed by the Taliban regime was lifted when a new government came to office in late 2001.
Skilled kite maker Noor Agha is again plying his trade and selling kites to make a living. In fact, business is so good that he has taught all of his wives to make kites and is training his six year old daughter to do so as well.
Noor Agha's traditional Afghan kites are so authentic and precise that they were selected for use in the filming of the movie version of Khaled Hosseini's best selling novel, The Kite Runner. (See entry on The Kite Runner movie.) His kites were shipped in large quantity to China where the movie was filmed . The kites will be seen by millions of people around the world on the big screen.
Time Magazine reports:
Agha's factory is his living room, where he has put his two wives and 11 children to work, cutting, shaping and gluing the intricate tissue-paper mosaics that make his kites stand out for their beauty and superior handling. The secret is in the glue, he says, holding up a pot of evil-smelling green paste. "No one knows my recipe for making a glue that stays perfectly flat when it dries, without rippling the tissue paper," he says. Business is so good these days that Agha has had to teach his wives how to make kites. He proudly calls one of them "the second best kite maker in Kabul," although he insists that she will never be as good as he is. "I have 45 years' experience. She'll never be able to catch up." His 6-year-old daughter may have a better chance. Already she is making her own kites to sell to neighborhood children at one afghani (2¢) apiece.
Noor Agha had to take his business underground in order to make kites during the Taliban days, but now his work can be sold openly.
'Kabul has changed a lot compared with how it was in the Taliban time. During their regime, if a child was even caught flying a (cheap) plastic kite, his father would be thrown in jail,' he said.'But fortunately now, we live like kings. We can do whatever we want. We can fly kites wherever we want. We can enjoy our hobbies."
Not only does Noor Agha craft traditional kites to a level of excellence, he still flies them once a week with other kite fliers. He continues to experience the sheer joy of controlling a darting kite and battling with opponents for supremacy in the skies. Agha concludes: "Making kites is my job," he says. "Fighting them is my disease." 
1. TIME Magazine (On-line) Friday, February 23, 2007
2. Kite industry thriving in Afghanistan. Monday, November 13, 2006
3. TIME Magazine (On-line) Friday, February 23, 2007
Since the inception of the ban on kite flying by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2005, there has been great confusion over kite flying, kite making and the sale of kites and line in Pakistan.
Kite flying is a very popular and culturally embedded tradition in Pakistan, especially during Basant, the festival that welcomes the coming of Spring to the nation. Basant is celebrated by people of all religions: Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Christians.
Historically there have been a great many injuries and even deaths attributed to kite flying. Kite fliers typically take to the roof tops in the crowded cities and some have fallen from their perch to the streets below. To show off kite flying skills, participants try to cut each other's kite from the sky. To enhance the ability to cut through an opponent's kite string, glass coated line is often used. In recent years a type of metallic coating has been applied to the kite line to increase the cutting property. This metallic line has frequently shorted power lines and caused electrical outages.
One of the most significant dangers of the coated line occurs when it drops into the street and is snagged across trees or power poles. Motor scooter riders are then in particular danger of being cut on the neck and arms by the sharp line. Several deaths have occurred in this way. In addition, there is much carnage to the bird population during this period of kite flying.
All of this led to the ban on kite flying by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2005. However, the tens of thousands of kite flyers that continued flying in spite of the ban made an enforcement nightmare for the police. In addition, the ban specified that kite makers and line makers were subject to banishment as well. This cut into the livelihood of many and added severe economic deprivation to the kite makers.
So, in 2006 some regulations were developed around the original kite flying ban to ensure that kite makers could be licensed and controlled and to permit kite flying under certain safety regulations for a limited number of days during the festival. This led to continued confusion and even more headaches for the enforcement authorities. In 2006 the number of deaths and injuries were reduced but not eliminated under the new regulations.
Once again this year, confusion reigns over the issue of making, selling and flying kites in the skies over the major cities of Pakistan. It is difficult to legislate an end to a practice that is deeply embedded in the culture of a nation. Kite flying is not likely to disappear so additional education on safe practices will definitely be needed. For certain, metallic coated line needs to be banned.
One of the practical solutions to the safety issue for motor scooter riders in urban areas was the development of "kite-string rods" which attach to the bikes to ensure that sharp kite lines are deflected up and over the riders and their passengers.
Speaking at a meeting of All-Pakistan Kite Dealers-Manufacturers Association, the District coordination officer (DCO), Muhammad Ijaz said on February 1, 2007 that all union council nazims would provide safety kite-string rods to people who had motorcycles registered under their names. Traffic police would take action against people not using helmets and rods, he added. (Daily Times of Pakistan)
Other regulations have been developed to define the size of kites that can be produced and marketed by the licensed kite makers and vendors. For example, a butterfly kite’s maximum span would be 32 inches and no kite would be permitted to exceed a span of 40 inches. Another regulation ensures that kites in each region could only be manufactured using local materials. Materials from other cities would require the permission of the district environment officer. This latter regulation was not seen as a safety regulation, but rather was introduced to ensure that the local kite economy which was being hit hard by the rules would remain viable. The regulation was intended to discourage the importing of kites from other nations and areas.
The culture of kites in Pakistan is so embedded into the national psyche that it is hoped that these regulations will help to promote safe kite flying while still encouraging the continuance of the unique relationship of kites and kite fighting skills to the people of Pakistan.
Khaled Hosseini's runaway best seller, The Kite Runner (Riverhead Publishing- 2003-06-02 - ISBN: 1573222453) rose to the top of the New York Times Best Seller List and has generated sustained reader interest over several years.
It is an epic tale of fathers and sons, of friendship and betrayal, that takes the reader from the final days of the monarchy in Afghanistan to the control and atrocities of the Taliban regime. It is an unforgettable story of coming of age, self discovery, betrayal and redemption that took millions of readers around the world into a different culture through a dramatic tale.
The main characters are Amir and his good friend Hassan who grow up together until a tragic event causes Amir to turn his back on his friend and leave him to suffer at the hands of a violent street gang. At the time of the event, Amir has just concluded a successful battle with his kite for supremacy of the neighborhood skies during an Afghan festival. Hassan, as always streaks away to retrieve the kites cut during the battle to bring them back for Amir. It is during this "kite running" that Hassan is cornered by the gang and Amir turns away from his friend. The story of the painful aftermath for Amir, Hassan is wonderfully told by Khaled Hosseini in his first novel. The insights into Afghan culture and life are deep and profound. They put a human face on the upheaval and suffering that has befallen the central Asian nation over the past years.
Now, Paramount Vantage and Director Marc Forster, backed by Steven Spielberg's Dreamworks, are bringing The Kite Runner to the silver screen this fall. Scheduled for release November 2, 2007, the movie has already completed shooting and has moved to the post-production phase.
For kite fliers the story has additional appeal in that it focuses on the kite battles that exemplify the kite flying skill typically found in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The tradition of using darting fighter kites flown on line coated with ground glass is strong in these nations and continues to this day.
Due to the difficulty and danger of conditions in Afghanistan, the production team sought alternative locations for filming. Kashgar, China was selected for its close resemblance to Afghanistan. Here, in Muslim neighborhoods, that are very similar to pre-war Kabul in the 1970's, the movie has been given visual authenticity.
The producers and director have worked hard to provide complete authenticity to the entire production. The streets are full of bearded men in traditional garb and of women wearing burkhas. The cast was selected for both their ability to act and to speak in "Dari", the Persian language spoken in Afghanistan. The entire dialogue is in the language and dialect of Afghanistan. This means that English speaking audiences will be following the story in sub-titles. Director Forster is confident that the story will grip movie audiences even though they will have to expend the effort to read and follow the on-screen action simultaneously.
Khaled Hosseini (right) was present throughout most of the filming and worked directly with Marc Forster left) and the actors to help interpret the story that is so important to him.
Kekiria Ebrihimi, age eleven at the time of the filming, plays the role of Amir. Ahmad Khan Mahmiidzada, age ten, plays the role of Amir's faithful friend, the servant boy, Hassan. The role of Amir's father, Baba, is played by 59 year old Iranian actor Homayoun Ershadi. Kahlid Abdallah, a British actor with Egyptian heritage, plays the role of the adult Amir.
The November 2, 2007 screening date is eagerly awaited by fans of this great novel and by kite fliers who will be thrilled to see Afghan style kite fighting take a central part in the movie.
For kiters who are movie aficionados, this is not the first time that Director Marc Forster has used kites in his movies. In the movie Finding Neverland, Forster directed Johnny Depp, Kate Winslett and some talented young actors in the story of J. M. Barry, the author of Peter Pan. An English arch top kite was prominently featured in a park scene within this movie. (See: Kites in the Movie "Finding Neverland".)
Prior to the advent of the Internet, popular magazines were a major communications format. They were widely distributed through news stands and personal subscriptions. Popular magazines generally catered to current or seasonal interests of the general population. Some were targeted to specific interest or age groups and contained articles related to a theme.
These magazines usually used the cover display space to grab the potential reader's interest and prompt a purchase for reading on one's own time. The largest popular magazines targeted at the general population in the 1900's often featured "cover art" before photography took over and dominated the frontispiece. Some magazines made it a hallmark to use the work of noted artists who conveyed an essence of the times and captured reader interest. Noteworthy among this type of magazine was the famed Saturday Evening Post published by the Hearst Corporation.
Over the years my fascination with kite history has prompted me to collect both books and 'old paper' (magazines, journals, print advertising etc.) There are many examples of kite art on the covers of old magazines that are of interest to serious kite hobbyists.
The Saturday Evening Post published two covers devoted to kite art in the 1950's. Both are outstanding examples of the type of art that captures a time and a mood. Both evoked images of childhood and nostalgic feelings in buyers of the magazines.
The Post's two kite art covers were painted by famed American artist John Falter (1910-1982). In all Falter published 128 covers for the Saturday Evening Post. His first cover art, a rendition of Benjamin Franklin, was published in 1943. This led to a twenty-five year association with the Post until it ceased publication in 1969.
The first kite art by John Falter published on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post was the March 18, 1950 edition of the magazine. It was based on a painting entitled "Bucks County Spring". The cover captures the farmlands of Bucks County situated in the Delaware Valley, not far from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the foreground are a group of boys, likely in the twelve to fifteen year age range, who are either readying kites for flight or flying them. This is likely one of the most sought after magazine covers by kite ephemera collectors. My copy of this Post cover is a prized possession in my collection.
The simple beauty and emotions evoked by this painting capture the best of what every adult remembers about kite flying in their youth. For adult kite enthusiasts, the feelings tap into what we still feel every time we ready or launch a kite into the crisp Spring sky.
What is so unique about this photo is the array of kites of historical interest that are shown. Falter depicts one of the most famous kites of all time, the Garber Target Kite, being readied for flight by two boys in the lower foreground of the painting. The Garber kite is the traditional sky blue sail color with the outline of a Japanese Zero airplane on the kite sail.
The other kites depicted (bottom to top) are: -a skyscraper box kite; -a white sailed hexagonal three stick kite (flying above the barn roof); and -a red sailed version of a diamond kite (very top of photo by the Post logo). The red diamond kite is being flown with two lines and is thus a very maneuverable kite, much like the Garber Target Kite shown in the image.
To prepare for his painting, John Falter actually purchases some Garber Target Kites from a surplus store and built a large box kite with a friend as well. He spent time flying the kites and then put all his experience into the painting using young boys as his subjects for the experiences he had gained first hand. Likely this is why there is such realism in the painting.
On the inside of the Saturday Evening Post, a brief note about the cover painting provides these insights:
"This cover landed John Falter in his second childhood. A man can't paint kites unless he flies a few, can he? Falter bought some Navy target-gunnery jobs - double-string rudder-control affairs like the red and blue ones in the picture - and Mrs. Falter became a kite widow. Then Falter and friend Arthur Naul built an eight-foot box contraption. The leviathan flew too. Until eventually it crashed, and now it will never fly again. As time went on, people got to inquiring whether those old guys always out there playing with the kites were balmy or what. Finally, when the Post phoned Falter and asked him where under the sun his kite painting was, he sadly wrenched himself back into his vale of labor, and started painting, fast."
Using the date of the Post cover some historical analysis can be performed. We know that by 1950 the Garber Target Kites, mainly manufactured by the Spaulding Company for use as targets for naval gunnery crews, were widely available in Army surplus stores for a few dollars. Today, a well preserved specimen is valued well above $200.oo (US currency). So, it appears the boys have picked up a great kite treasure to enjoy the Spring afternoon.
The 'skyscraper' box kite was popular in the 1940's and '50's as well. Unlike a Hargrave's box kite which had elongated boxes at top and bottom, the skyscraper box kite utilized totally square box cells at top and bottom. These were usually spaced apart by an open section in the frame equal to one and one half times the size of the square box cell.
The three stick hexagonal kite was a favourite of all young kite makers. Dating back to the mid-1800's, the hexagonal kite's simplicity of framing, overlapping three sticks and attaching them to the six corners of the kite sail, made this kite one of the easiest to build. Since this kite is essentially a 'flat kite', it required a tail to control sideways yaw and prevent a spinning crash to the ground. Getting the length and weight of the tail just right for the wind conditions was often a frustrating process for impatient young fliers.
On March 10, 1956 the Saturday Evening Post once again decided to herald the arrival of Spring with another John Falter kite art piece. This one shows a group of three young boys in the foreground with their trusty Dalmatian dog, looking up at a tree which has captured the green diamond kite. This kite is clearly an Eddy diamond variant since it is much taller than it is wide. This shape made it essential to attach a tail for flight stability. The tail is nicely wrapped in the tree branches as well, making one speculate that the day's kite flying adventure is over and a new kite has to be made.
Kiters know this feeling very well. A favorite kite caught in a tree can pretty much put a damper on a nice afternoon of flying. I can remember well the times I lost a kite as a youngster. One wonders whether Falter's painting was based on a scene he came upon while out sketching, or if the source of his art was a childhood memory of a tangled kite and the abrupt end to an afternoon of fun.
During his career John Falter produced more than 5000 paintings, several of which are in prominent museums displaying "Americana" art. Falter did produce one additional painting that shows three boys with a kite in a farmer's field. This painting resides in the collection at the Atchinson Art Association in Atchison, Kansas and was not published as a magazine cover piece.
Some of John Falter's Post covers are of a style that many people ascribe to the more famous Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), who also painted very memorable covers for the Saturday Evening Post. Falter's work is generally more realistic and slightly less "character-esque" than the iconic art of Rockwell. Both are credited with giving the Post distinguishable "All American" cover images that were a hallmark of the publication. Rockwell contributed 322 covers to the Saturday Evening Post.
I am still conducting research on the complete set of Saturday Evening Post covers. There is one painting by Norman Rockwell, entitled "Old Man and Boy: Flying the Kite", which may have made it to the cover of the Post. As yet, I have not been able to confirm this.
The SkySails company of Germany will begin sea trials of it's large 160 square metre kite on an ocean going freighter early in 2007. Designed to provide a kite traction assist to the regular diesel engines of the MV Beluga, the large sail is expected to reduce fuel costs by 15 to 20% by using wind power.
Stephan Wrage, inventor and founder of SkySails, reported in Daily Tech, an Inernet news site about the applications of technology, that "I got the idea on a sail boat a few years ago. I love flying kites and found sailing rather slow. I thought the enormous power in kites could somehow be utilized."
Beluga Shipping, working with Wrage and SkySails, will have one ship outfitted and operational early in 2007. The SkySail will be attached to a mast at the front of the ship and will be utilized whenever wind conditions permit. Unlike a sail on a sailboat, traction kites cannot 'tack' with the wind in the same manner. Thus there may be some wind conditions that do not permit deployment of the sail for a traction boost.
As reported in Daily Tech,
"Beluga Shipping is a believer in the technology and is currently having its "MV Beluga SkySails" vessel outfitted with a sail and a computer-controlled central steerage unit. The ship will make its maiden voyage early next year. Beluga Shipping CEO Neils Stolberg estimates the SkySail will drop his company's $7,500 daily fuel bill to $6,000.
"You've got to look at new ideas to cope with developments in oil prices," said Stolberg. "When energy prices double in such a short time, you've got to innovate. We won't be able to switch the engines off. But we're confident we can reduce fuel usage -- and cut emissions."