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Yesterday I began watching The Kite Runner. It’s been on my queue for years. Jan read the novel and saw the movie. Now as we start to talk about it I get the impression that she didn’t know enough Asian culture or class systems in Islam to really get what she was encountering: after five minutes of it I saw that I had run into one aspect of Kite Runner culture: just enough to be confused. Now, 2013 03 14 I’ve surfed a few things, I begin again, leaving the earlier post to follow as a tail:
Since my mother threw my father out when I was maybe five, I missed a lot of normal father/son stuff, but not all. I remember flying kites on the beach. Wind came stiff off the ocean, kites breezed straight into the sky over Jones Beach, ascents easy, reliable. That was the early 1940s. Then I didn’t kite again until the early 1970s. I was running my Free Learning Exchange on NY’s upper west side. Hilary got tired of being the only sponsor after three years of my getting next to zero support from the damn public: she grabbed the kid, moved to her mother’s. bk and I got to spend some time together: so long as I “accepted” that I had no say in my son’s training: he would be “normal”; not the eldest (and only) son, child, of the deschooler.
Well. one day I bought a kite 79¢ or so, including some Egytian-cotton string. I’d long seen kites riding the sky above Grants Tomb: wind rode stiff up that hill much the same as it came in stiff at Jones Beach. I spent a lot of time on that turf with my tennis racket: it outta be just like home to fly a kite at Grants Tomb. bk and I, and I don’t doubt our dog Angus trudged over there. The hill was well occupied: mostly by Asian black people: Indians I thought them. These guys flew kites like I’d never seen before: huge, spangled, gleaming: metal and glass, mirror, as well as fabric, ribbon, and bamboo. Some of the tail of the kites went on and on, ribboning the sky. I set up our kite, attached a modest tail, tied on the string, and we were up, up, and away.
Except immediately our humble kite was attacked by these Indian kites. I didn’t recall any kite wars from my childhood, and we were in the middle of World War II! At the beach we jut flew our kites, they rode the wind, in a row, colorful, peaceful. But Grants Tomb was different. A kite the size of a Tyrranosaur gobbled our kite up, tangled in our string, parted our string. Our kite rocketed the wind to parts unknown. North for the moment. Bear Mountain, Poughkeepsie, here it comes.
The predator handlers of the predator-kite laughed, chortled, notched their belts, and ran off.
Now I know that their kite cord would have been impregnated with ground glass: those predator kites could cut flesh.
Now that I’ve seen even a minute of The Kite Runner I’ll venuture that these Indians weren’t Indians quite as probably as Afghans. I don’t know what they were. bk and I were WASPS. We were the American majority; but not on the hill at Grants Tomb.
bk was, what, four? six? I was thirty-something, 5′ 8″, one forty or so pounds, an intellectual warrior, but not a physical fighter. bk and I walked home. (His address was right by Grants Tomb; mine was a dozen blocks south: I ran FLEX from Riverside Drive and 103rd.
Barbara Tuckman opens her Distant Mirror, her history of the 14th Century, with peasants in France tilling their fields when they’re attacked by armored knights a-saddle. The peasants had never heard of knights (the peasants didn’t even know there were in France, or in Europe. Imagine dealing the seven files of solitare when suddenly the six file snarls, turns on the seventh, and shreds it.
I did nothing. We walked away. bk didn’t say, Dad, aren’t you going to kill them all? Angus did his usual dog walk type things, he showed no awareness that we’d been attacked. Attacked and defeated, gobbled, killed.
I’m gonna watch the movie. I may need to see it more than once, what do I know about Hazara people or Twelver Shia Muslims? or ordinary Muslims? What do I understand of Farsi? or Shīa Islam Isma‘ilist seveners?
I should add, I should correct: bk and I were not really white or WASP, we were not majority. Had we been we might have been able to rouse a retaliatory mob before we had walked a couple of blocks. Those Grants Tomb blacks would have had no place to run.
Gandhi raised mobs; but not pk.
God made me a pacifist Christian this time, a Tolstoyan.
Wouldn’t it be funny if you brought me born into some other universe as a warrior some time? Maybe I’ll be one of those guys chopping up the peasants in France, half-a-dozen or so hundred years agone.
I just paused , only a couple of minutes into it. It looks very promising, but I instantly see that I first have to tell a story about flying a kite, being quickly victimized in a kite fight: from the hill by Grants Tomb.
2015 03 14 I launched this scribble innocently enough: 24 hours later I see I have to develop something serious: and relate the Asian kite fights to humans-everywhere’s myth wars!
Grants Tomb: that’s Manhattan, Riverside Drive, 120th Street. bk was a toddler. I’d bought us a cheap kite, ball of string. Our dog, Angus, tended himself, sniffed around, while we rigged up. Wind comes off the Hudson, hits that hill, ascends swiftly: a cripple can get a kite aloft. It was bk’s first kite flight, my first in ages: quite likely my first since the mid-1940s.
Here it’s 1971, ’72, maybe ’73. Our kite goes up, hooray. Easy. Except: we found ourselves in a war we hadn’t planned, hadn’t been warned about. The hill was dominated by Asian-looking men. I thought of them as “Indian”: now my guess is Afghan: Muslim, not Hindu. They were flying giant kites, as aggressively as a pod of tyrannosaurs. These kites were made by the hobbyist hilltop warriors. They were big, heavy: Caliban, not Ariel kites: decororated with metal, with mirrors, with every kind of glitter, ribbon and frill. These dark-skinned men connected themselves to the sky via stout cord; no mere little Egyptian-cotton string like we had. Our kite hadn’t been aloft more than a minute before we found ourselves attacked. These guys brought their predator kite toward our kite and under our string. Our string parted on the instant, and our kite ascended, kept going, to parts neverwhere. The men laughed and looked for another victim.
A sympathetic observer whispered to us to notice that the attackers had their kite-cord imprenated with ground glass: designed to cut stout line: and to atomize mere string.
bk was crestfallen but didn’t fuss. I don’t think he expected his father, thirty-one or two, one hundred and forty pounds maybe, an intellectual fighter but no martial arts warrior, to attack the Indians: they were each bigger than me: and they had shown that they were the aggressors. We left. We vacated. The bird bullies the worm but flees the hawks.
bk and I were the “white” guys, WAPS, the only such on the hill. The hill was occupied by dark-skinned Asian-ethnics (“Asian” no matter where they were born). bk and I subordinated our valor to our discretion. But later I fantasized about retaliation: maybe bk did too.
Now I’m gonna watch more Kite Runner: and absorb the wikipedia article on the subject. There the Asian boys get their kite string cut. I don’t know yet how aggressively. I’ll watch, maybe report back. And I’m tempted to flag bk, now father to Benjamin, about that same age: does he remember it? did he have revenge fantasies? Did he wish I’d done something more bellicose than we did? just leave?
Soldiers don’t normally counterattack with their babes in their arms: or their women on their arm.
Barbara Tuckman introduces her history of the Fourteenth Century with a story of French peasants minding their own business when they’re raided by armored knights on horseback. They’d never near of knights, may never have heard of any damn king. Suddenly they’re getting slaughtered.
This side and that side square off in a naval battle; but should a battleship bomb a fishing dingy that it happens upon?
2016 09 26 Time has slipped by, I still hadn’t gotten back to my movie.
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