Stringed beauties

This theatre of the sky played out on the banks of the River Sabarmati in Ahmedabad as the International Kite Festival took off

Reach for the sky

Kites at the Kite Festival in Ahmedabad. PHOTOS BY AUTHORS

A surreal dream stretches out across the sky. The blue sky has turned into a riot of colours. The likes of Shivaji, Batman, Tom & Jerry, Chinese flying dragons, and others vie for your attention. The Indian tricolour soars in colourful glory, birds, planes, balloons, kites of every colour, design, and contour imaginable, create a mesmerising and colourful mosaic in the sky.

The metamorphosis that kite flying has undergone over the years is mind-boggling. In Gujarat a much awaited regional festival has been transformed into a global event. The industry that it has spawned, which includes manufacture of kites and allied paraphernalia, has burgeoned into a multi-crore business.

The Festival of Kites in Gujarat has always been a community activity, just like many other well-known festivals of the region like Navrartri. These festivals are celebrated in every residential home, society, and the traditional housing clusters known as pols, however, the arena has broadened over time and assumed a global perspective.

Moments of bliss

Man’s urge to fly from time immemorial finds easy expression with a thread in your hand and a kite bobbing up in the sky, however big or small. Kite flying is a passion that grips Ahmedabad and other cities of Gujarat as soon as the new year sets in.

The sky slowly starts transforming into a play-field and then into a war zone as kites battle it out for supremacy of the skies. Cries of kai po che fill the air. The enthusiasm and passion build up into a crescendo that reaches its zenith around the day of the actual festival known as Uttarayan and also celebrated as Makar Sankranthi

This is the day when families and friends ascend the terraces and rooftops of their homes to celebrate the kite festival. The mundane and the routine are relegated to an obscure corner of the mind and everyone unleashes the child within to enjoy every moment of the kites flying high, fuelled by soaring spirits.

Weeks before the festival, the lanes and bylanes of the towns and cities are transformed into a riot of colours. Shops stock kites of all colours and shapes, firkis or spools of thread beckon tantalisingly while the preparation of the battle of threads begins in right earnest. The strongest thread rules the sky and every kid and adult wants the strongest thread. Temporary processing centres come up for colouring the thread and preparing the manja, kids wait patiently for hours to get their thread coloured and strengthened and transformed into manja. The might of the manja from Surat, known as surti dori or manja is legendary. Ready-made spools of the manja are easily available, but the discerning and the purists prefer to get their own manja prepared.

No war is won on an empty stomach and so, too, the battle of the threads. While the arsenal for the kite festival gets ready, food preparations too are on the anvil. Uttarayan is synonymous with mouth-watering regional delicacies that include the famous undhiyu which is eaten along with puris. Undhiyu has its genesis in Surat and is a mixed vegetable curry that was traditionally cooked in earthen pots under the ground in an upside-down position. The name undhiyu itself is a derivative of the Gujarati word, ‘undhu’, which means upside-down. For those with an inclination towards everything sweet, various preparations of sesame unleash their seductive charms.

History of kites

Where did kites originate? When did man fly the first kite? Though the actual origins of kites are buried in the annals of time, written accounts place the origins of kite flying to about 2,000 years ago in China. Kites and the techniques of kite flying probably made their way to India with traders through the legendary silk route. In India, it was adopted by the Mughals as a royal sport. But kite flying soon left the cloistered spaces of royalty to become a pastime of the masses.

Kites are vehicles of pure pleasure but they have played versatile and crucial roles in many other spheres too. Benjamin Franklin’s kite and key experiment is a legendary example of the use of the kite in science. Across the span of history, kites have been used to study the wind and weather, they have been used in war for signalling much before the advent of airplanes, but above all, kites have conquered hearts as harbingers of joy and peace. This celebration of life erupts in a cascade of pleasant emotions during the festival of kites.

One sky one world

A board near one of the stalls at the Sabarmati riverfront, which was the venue of the international kite festival, said it all, ‘One sky one world’. The vast ground was filled with people from different countries. They were all focused on either getting their kites up in the air or keeping it there. The kites were of all sizes ranging from small quadrangular beauties to mammoth circular creations that needed a team to hoist and fly. The Malaysians had their Wau-Balang kites jostling for airspace with the Rokkaky fighting kites from Japan while the Chinese flying dragons took on the Italian sculptured kites in another part of the sky.

Laurent Dupire had come with his kite all the way from France. “I like this festival — many people, many friends, it’s like a big party,’’ he said, his happiness evident in his broad smile. He was pleased as Bollywood stars Varun Dhawan and Shraddha Kapoor tried their hand at kite flying with his kite.

Gus from Belgium, who was dressed in a flamboyant coloured dress, guided his fighter kite and said, “it’s my second time here and I love it.’’ Jay Soni cradled a whimpering toddler in his arms as he talked about his passion for kites. “I’m here from the historic city of Patan with my group,’’ he said even as the toddler looked at the colourful spectacle all around.

A small boy ran after his father, hanging on to the thread while the kite soared in the skies. The happiness in the eyes of the little boy reflected the mood of the festival. The excitement in his eyes tugged at your heart strings just like the tug of strings that keep millions of kites flying high above the skies of Gujarat. As long as kites are there, the child in you will always remain alive.

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