Kite-Flying in the Time of Corona

Mahad Saqib watches his father get a kite airborne. (Aysha Imtiaz)

Thick smog blanketed the evening sky in Karachi, Pakistan, and cheel (indigenous predatory birds called kites) periodically swooped down to snatch their bounty. But amid the soaring birds punctuating the blue-gray vastness, some of the dark spots weren’t birds at all. Spinning in concentric circles, they were another type of kite — paper kites — in pursuit of each other.

In April, Saqib Rafique, 37, hastily folded his prayer mat after the obligatory Asar (late afternoon) prayer, band-aiding his index fingers to prevent rope burn. After a quick text on his friends’ WhatsApp group, he rushed to his rooftop, twin sons in tow. The occasion? A kite-flying playdate with friends many blocks away. 

“You don’t need physical distancing in the sky,” he said.

Rafique isn’t alone. During the strictest phase of Pakistan’s coronavirus lockdown in April, Pakistani millennials used WhatsApp groups to revive a favorite, but disappearing, childhood tradition.

For the COVID-19 kite flyers of Karachi, the soaring in unison revives memories of their former selves, allowing them to venture beyond the confines of the pandemic. They can escape into a forgotten era, rooted in the uncertain present by their kite string. They are together, but also apart — more than the recommended six feet.

Saqib Rafique with one of

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