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Bestselling Book Sparks US Kite Fighting Craze

Throughout much of Asia, kite fighting has been a popular activity for generations. Now a bestselling novel by an Afghan-American author has stirred new interest in the sport in the United States. And as VOA's Jim Bertel reports, kite fighting is more than just a sporting diversion, it is an important cultural touchstone for many South Asian immigrants in the U.S.

The skies over a park in New York City have been filled with kites in recent months.

On the ground, Afghan, Indian, Pakistani, and other South Asian devotees of "kite fighting" battle for supremacy of the skies. Bangladeshi Qaiser Khan says, "It is very special. I got this from my father, from my childhood. This is the only thing I (have) been doing since a very young age."

Sheryar Choudhry, Director of the World Control Board of Kite Flying says kite fighting is a highly competitive sport, but it is also considered an art form across South Asia -- a touchstone of shared experience.

"It's not only a sport. It's also a culture,” says Choudrhry. “It's a very big part of Pakistan, Indian culture. And you know it keeps you basically in touch that you left home and you are here now but you know all the guys and families come out to the park and they fly kites. It is basically a way of staying in touch with your heritage."

Introduced in the U.S. just over a decade ago, kite fighting has been on the ascent ever since. But with the 2004 publication of the novel "The Kite Runner" by Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini, the sport has really taken off says kite fighter Rizwan Basit.

"No matter what, even if it's windy, rainy, sunny, they are here Saturdays and Sundays flying kites. Firstly, we started twelve years ago. I was like one of the three people that were here (and) started this sport. Now we have a bunch of people."

It takes two men to operate the kite. Mastery of the sky goes to the team whose kite line cuts the cord of its challenger, sending the defeated kite into a free-fall.

"It's like winning a match. When two kites have a match together one of them is going to (be) cut. Whoever cuts the kite, he wins the match," explains Arshad Butt.

These "experienced hands" know how to prepare their kite strings with powdered glass and glue to snap their opponent's line. And they understand that winning takes patience, strategy, and some luck.

More than two years after its publication, "The Kite Runner" is still a hot seller. Hundreds turned out at a recent Washington DC book festival to have him sign copies of his books. In New York the sport of kite fighting is flying higher than ever.