The festival of kites is not exclusive to Ahmedabad. Khaled Hosseini’s novel is based on kite flying as an integral part of a living culture – at least at that point in time. One hears about the kites in several other countries as well. Even in Beijing, when we were near the Tienanmen square, people were flying kites.We also bought one, but the Panatng in Amdavaad…Oooh, is there ever a match?
But nowhere in the world have I found the entire city go berserk in an collective frenzy that has its own format, and because of it the frenzy looks organized even in its spontaneity.
The Amdavadis having their current address elsewhere almost hear a war cry and decide they must rush home. It is because of the warlike proportions of the frenzy that the life around Uttarayan appears different from usual.
The first among the observable features is eruption of the seasonal joints that turn the usual thread into a killer Patang Dori by rubbing the Maanja smoothly on the thread, by looping the thread between two electricity poles along the roads. The true-blue Amdavadis are seen spending big bucks, without much haggling for price, which is totally contrary to their temperament.
(The above photo is from http://www.flickr.com/photos/saumil/with/5330355594/)
Second is the sudden unavailability of all flight, train and bus tickets to any town in Gujarat. My son was coming home from Madras and he missed a connecting flight at Bombay this time. My brother and his wife ran from pillar to post and finally got my son to board a bus, which had one last ticket left for the 420 kilometer trip.
The kids relinquish their usual claim on freedom just as willingly as they don the eagerness to learn from the elders – I don’t know which one shocks the older ones more, but they gladly lap up the chance and teach the younger ones how to fly kites, getting transformed in to native Avatars of Sun-Tsu, teaching the art of kite-wars. The romantically successful ones also sneak in the lessons of how to trap someone else’s kite and how to cut a rival kite in a very live context.
The competition of a very different kind erupts in the households, especially the kitchens. Women strive to demonstrate their culinary skills and once, for a change, dig into recipes before wardrobes. Out pour the ‘how-to’s and secret formulas for making finger-licking Undhiyu, Chikis, Khichdo and various side dishes. Paradoxically, the shops selling ready-made delicacies also do equally well. I am sure the doctors also do well later.
The men recognize more openly how they need women. I do not remember who it was that said something like, ‘Men and women should live in different places and see each other occasionally’. I am sure it was not an Amdavadi author, because he would have said that they should see each other around Uttarayan.
Women, in turn, demonstrate the multiplicity of their skills. They cook, make holes on the kits for threading and tie the thread to kites – the back stage ops, but on the day of Uttarayan they also become the queens of jhansi and clean up the skies around their terraces.
The elderly ones forget their usual complaints about their joints and valiantly not only climb the terrace but also fly kits, cut others. The admiration and warm strokes they get for those acts of heroism doubles up as therapy, physio or gym work and pill course for days to come and serves as an important topic of conversations for weeks.
The people desperate to differentiate themselves wow not to fly kites – just like their ilk wowing not to do crackers in Diwali and colors in Holi, and make a splash for a day in the news papers – if anyone cares for the news paper that day, that is.
And the ordinary people, like us, juggle all other identities around the one – as the kite lover. Mount the terrace early in the morning, have breakfast, lunch and even dinner there, get tanned by two shades or more, take turns leading and serving without being told, do community service by bringing water and snacks umpteen times from ground floor, dance, play games when the wind is little unfriendly, overcome our guilt of not being able to play any instruments by blaring the horns, feel the same glory as the Oscar winners when we count the scars we get on fingers due to the thread, vent out all aggression at known and unknown enemies by shouting when we cut someone’s kite or sometimes even when our own kite is cut…
And then, if we did not get any of this in sufficient measure, we do it again the next day – no one says no, no one cribs – I know why. It is the therapy of largest proportion that entire city gives and takes, and treasures yet spreads.