Feature Special: Ashok Shah, the Kite Maker
Since Makar Sankranti brings with it the season of kite flying, we decided to help you relive your childhood through the eyes of the one man who knows kites better than anyone else in the country.
If you grew up as an Indian kid in a modest household, chances are, you have fond memories of spending evenings battling the wind as you tried to get your kites soaring in the sky. Since Makar Sankranti brings with it the season of kite flying, we decided to help you relive your childhood through the eyes of the one man who knows kites better than anyone else in the country.
Meet Ashok Shah — President of Ashok Designer Kites and Shrusti Kite Club, a company that makes magnificent designer kites. 53-year-old Shah, who is a resident of Dahanu, took to kite making over two decades ago and is now a Limca Book Record holder in the field. Apart from that, he and his team perform kite shows around the country for various festivals and events as well. He has been featured multiple times on TV as well as in newspapers for his incredible work, and continues to grow from strength to strength by the day.
But how did it all begin?
“Since I was a kid, I was always drawn towards the art,” says a nostalgic Shah. “I remember being eight years old and making ‘fighter’ kites for myself and my friends, but I never really took it seriously as a career option then.”
It was only an incident 24 years ago that made him consider it as a profession. Shah says, “I was on the beach with my son Nisarg who wanted a Superman, Spiderman, or a Donald Duck kite. Now remember, this was 24 years ago — finding such a fancy designer kite was next to impossible. While I pondered, my wife Aarti recommended that since I love craftwork and making kites, why don’t I try my hand? So, well, I did — and the end product was so good that a reporter, who was at the beach at the time, decided to write a feature story on us! Post that, I was invited to the Ahmedabad International Kite Festival by the Gujarat Tourism Minister of the time, and have represented Maharashtra at the festival since.”
The journey, though, has been anything but smooth. He elaborates, “At the time, there were just four entrants from India competing against 25 international kite makers. It was a bit of a shock to see the impeccable quality of kites they made. They were unique and mesmerising; made from materials we wouldn’t even consider! I remember this particular incident with an American kite maker, who mocked the Indian kites because they were made from basic materials and weren’t as good as his. Hurt and humiliated, I told him that while we Indian kite makers may not have the kind of financial backing that our western peers do, we do possess a lot of talent and will work hard to get better. I sourced local material and made a tremendous variety of kites for the next few years. Three years on, at the very same festival, the American acknowledged my work and congratulated me on my progress. I have never looked back since!”
His progress since has been nothing short of stellar. Apart from the many TV shows and national and international records that he holds, Shah’s ‘Artificially Diamond Studded Lord Krishna and Radha Kite’ is on display at the World Kite Museum in Washington D.C, USA, while his ‘Lord Ganesh Kite’ is on display in a museum in Turkey. As mentioned before, he also does various kite shows with his team, and raises funds and gives back to the kite community through the same.
The Significance of Makar Sankranti
While most kites are made from plastic or nylon, Shah uses a myriad of materials in his special designer kites. “I do use plastic to make my kites, but I make cloth and ‘China’ kites too. Apart from that, I make peculiar, unique designer kites that are sometimes made to order.
“The season of Makar Sankranti holds a special place in my heart. I make all kinds of kites during this period — some as small as 1.5 inches, others as big as 200 feet! I make over 200 different types of kites in all, so I’m definitely happiest during this time of the year.”
Shah says that the demand is greatest from Maharashtra, Gujarat, Hyderabad, and Bangalore during Makar Sankranti. Up north, Delhi sees a surge in August, while kites are largely flown during the festival of Vasant Ritu in Punjab.
Plans for the Future
Shah says that he’d love nothing more than to pass on his valuable knowledge to the next generation of kite makers. “I love teaching young kids the art. I hold a record for conducting the biggest kite making workshop, where I taught over 1200 children at the Solapur International Festival a few years ago.
“My message to young kids is simple — take it as a hobby, and let it grow from there. It is a fantastic, challenging hobby that allows you to travel around the world, meet new, creative people, and soak in the best of cultures. It’s a win-win, really!”
At a more personal level, Shah says he simply wants to pursue his hobby with a passion, and spread the joy of kite making throughout the country. “And oh, I’d love to represent India and win the Kite Making World Cup someday!”
You can learn more about Ashok Shah and his spectacular designer Kites here: http://www.ashokdesignerkites.com/