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A Kite Journey Through India by Tal Streeter

A Kite Journey Through India (edition 1996)

by Tal Streeter

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Title:A Kite Journey Through India
Authors:Tal Streeter
Info:Weatherhill (1996), Edition: 1st ed, Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:Kites, India

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A Kite Journey Through India by Tal Streeter

  1. 00
    Art of the Japanese Kite by Tal Streeter (nandadevi)
    nandadevi: Artistic and social insight. Not just about kites, but also the people who make and fly them.

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This is Streeter's stories of travelling to and through india in the 1980's and 1990's, seeking out kite makers and kites and kite enthusiasts. This is the formulae that gave him stunning success with his 'The Art of the Japanese Kite', a book that made him deservedly famous amongst the kite fraternity. There was in that book a palpable sense of wonder and discovery that captivated both Streeter and the reader. But there's some of that magic missing in his 'A Kite Journey Through India'. We hear the voices of kite makers and enthusiasts, and it is clear that their lives are rich and different from our expectations in ways that catch and hold our attention. And yet ...

The Indian kite experience is different from that of the West, or even from Japan, in two respects. Firstly that there is very little variation in the design of Indian kites and consequently this is a journey of discovery of people, rather than of both people and kites. Secondly, Indian enthusiasts and kite makers make it clear that kite flying is synonymous with kite fighting. Kites are made and flown simply to fight - using glass covered string manoeuvred so as to cut the opponents kite line. Flying a kite is not a deliciously idle activity or an aesthetic delight, it is a invitation to battle. Indian kites are manufactured in their millions, and it is nothing for an individual to purchase - and lose - up to fifty kites a day during the brief flying season. As Streeter observes, this puts pressure on manufacturers - usually family affairs - to put priority on keeping costs down and the rate of production as high as possible, both factors inimical to design and quality. You get the sense that Streeter is longing to meet someone who would express their joy at simply holding a kite string or looking at a beautiful kite hanging in the sky. But the Indian kite flyer, and the Indian kite is unrelentingly competitive.

Streeter's experience of the aesthetics and enthusiasm that the Japanese brought to kite making and flying was both an insight into Japanese culture and a mirror held up to that of the West. It was a story about the value of play, and of mad enthusiasm and taking a childish joy in life. But there is a sense that Streeter's Indian kite experience involved a certain disconnect. He has the instinct and sensitivity to connect with the kite makers, but he seems to struggle to enter into the spirit of the world of Indian kite flying - a world of competition, of winners and losers.

It is a telling thing that Streeter never appears to - or appears to wish to - learn and practice kite-fighting, If he had done so this might have been a book called 'The Art of Indian Kite Fighting' and it would have been a very different book. But I have no idea how, nor indeed do I think Streeter could see, where in this competitiveness there was a beautiful truth or revelation. Perhaps it lies somewhere in the contrast between the limits to ambition and the obligations to tradition and the struggle simply to survive that exists at ground level, and the chance - with a kite - to step outside those constraints for a while. But we never quite see that, and India doesn't lend itself to analysis or simple truths. Streeter opens his book with a quote about India, "In this huge country little or nothing is everywhere true." In the end I believe Streeter acknowledges that this isn't a book about a journey into the soul, but a journey through a place, hence the choice of title of the book. Perhaps the lesson is that India can ultimately only be experienced. To try too hard to understand it is to miss the experience.

Streeter has shared his journey through India and written honestly about it with a great deal of affection for the people he has sought out, and those that fate has brought his way. If in doing so he comes down a notch from his 'exalted status' as the author of the greatest book ever written about kites, he gains in our estimation as someone whose enthusiasm is undiminished by adversity (and fame). Streeter is driven to find and tell the stories of other cultures and kites, even if it is apparent that he doesn't completely understand what is going on. But I think the reader is rewarded, because sometimes the telling of an honest story is more important than a arriving at a neat conclusion. I recommended this book as an insight into an aspect of Indian culture, and - of course - highly recommend it to the kite fraternity. If you are coming to Streeter for the first time, however, there is no better place to start than his earlier work, 'The Art of the Japanese Kite'. ( )
  nandadevi | Jul 7, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0834803011, Paperback)

American sculptor Tal Streeter, author of Art of the Japanese Kite, introduces readers to the rich traditions of India by examining the Indian art of making and flying kites. Unlike the pastoral imagery evoked by Western kite flying, the Indian version is competitive, requiring strategy and cutthroat instinct. The strings are armed with shards glass and the object is to attack and destroy rival kites. Streeter visits such kite producing centers as Lucknow, Jodhpur and Bombay and explores the city of Ahmedabad, where each year more than 10 million kites are destroyed in a month-long kite-flying festival.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:12 -0400)

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