Ustad Yasin Chutka, the owner of a small manjha-producing unit in Bareilly’s Hussainebagh, is a busy man these days.
Every morning, he visits nearby villages to hire “karigars” (artisans). The demand for Chutka’s variety of manjha – the abrasive string used in kite-flying contests – has skyrocketed for the first time in years.
The reason? A number of prohibitions placed on nylon strings made by the competition, the most recent being an interim ban by the National Green Tribunal, has come as a godsend for Chutka and others like him in the locality.
“The demand for Bareilly ka manjha has increased since last year, when these bans came into effect, and we hope the NGT action boosts it further,” says Inam Ali, a kite trader in the old city area, adding that he doesn’t use any prohibited ingredient – nylon, glass or metal powder – to make his product.
- Manjha manufacturers date back to over two centuries
- At least 30,000 people are involved in the manufacture and trade of manjha in the city
- Most of the families involved in the business don’t have any other source of income
- The trade has an annual turnover of around Rs 50-60 crore
- Bareilly’s manjha is crafted through a relatively natural process
- The morning ritual of most manjha manufacturers in Bareilly is boiling pots of coarse rice into thick paste
- The end-product is a sturdy manjha capable of holding its own against rivals in tough kite-flying competitions
The nylon manjha – made with synthetic materials – is banned in several states, including Gujarat, Maharastra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. It is also called the Chinese manjha, presumably because it was first introduced in the Indian market by traders from the neighbouring country.
“The nylon manjha was banned in Maharashtra in 2014. So, from 2015, we began coming here to buy our wares,” remarks Dheeraj Sahu, a manjha trader from Nagpur.
Sahu is not the only one. “Over 200 of my biggest clients are from places outside Uttar Pradesh,” says Ali.
The Bareilly ka manjha, on the other hand, is crafted through a relatively natural process. The morning ritual of most Muslim households near Hussainebagh – a major manjha production area in Bareilly – comprises boiling pots of coarse rice into thick paste. The grain is then kneaded with psyllium husk, stone powder, surma (kohl), colour and a few herbs into luddi (dough). In the next step, the luddi is smeared over cotton strings tied between two wooden poles and then left to dry for a few hours.
The end-product is a sturdy manjha capable of holding its own against rivals in tough kite-flying competitions.
“There was a time when powdered glass was included in the luddi, but not anymore,” says Asib. Now, powdered marble or ceramic fragments are used instead.
So, how are the cotton strings coated with marble? First, the hard stone is crushed into miniscule grains by hand, using a mortar and pestle. It is then sieved to obtain even finer pieces. These fragments are then re-ground using mechanical or electric machinery until a smooth powder is produced. This is sold to manjha manufacturers, who use it to strengthen the string.
Though Bareilly ka manjha is what traders from other states covet the most, the nylon version is also in high demand. It has dominated the local market ever since its introduction in 2009. “While one gitta (yarn) of nylon manjha costs Rs 200, the price of the same amount of Bareilly manjha comes up to Rs 600. This is why people prefer to buy the nylon version,” says Haji Puttan, a trader from Kila area.
There is another reason why the nylon manjha continues to be a hit with kite flyers. According to Kamaal Asib, president of the Manjha Majdur Hath Karigar Samiti, it has fared much better than its Bareilly counterpart in lab tests as far as strength is concerned. “When experts at the North India Textile Research Association laboratory rubbed a strand of Bareilly manjha with a standard string, it broke after 96 smooth cuts. The nylon manjha took 18,000 cuts to break,” he says.
However, this very strength is also why the nylon string is considered dangerous by the authorities. The rise in its popularity was accompanied by an increase in manjha-related mishaps, with over 30 such instances being recorded in Bareilly alone. Finally, the Allahabad high court issued a ban on the sale of nylon manjha in November 2015.
However, due to the authorities’ laxity in implementing the ban, nylon manjha continues to be sold openly. Two children were killed in neighbouring Delhi last August, when their throats were slit by strings of kites being flown as part of a competition.
“We have our limitations… what will be eat if we do not sell these strings?”
Traders say they can’t stop selling the nylon manjha just because of the ban. “Majboori hai, nahi bechenge tho khayenge kya? Agar sarkar me himmat hai to ye manjha bane wali company ko band karwa de (We have our limitations… what will be eat if we do not sell these strings? If the government has the courage, it must ban the firms that produce nylon manjha),” remarks Ali.
One can see the logic in his statement; the bans talk only of selling nylon manjha, not their manufacture. In fact, Karnataka – which banned the sale of the product in July 2016 – happens to be its manufacturing hub. The biggest synthetic manjha maker – Mono Kite – is based in state capital Bengaluru.
Mono Kite general manager Yogesh Saxena admits that Uttar Pradesh is their biggest market, but denies reports that their product is dangerous. “Our manjha is completely biodegradable. We care for nature as well as our customers,” Saxena tells HT over the phone, adding that their nylon string is manufactured with machines imported from Germany in adherence to strict research and development guidelines.
Though sales have taken a hit after the bans, the company still produces six to eight tonnes of nylon manjha every month. “The ban is on the sale of manjha, not its production,” he says.