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The festival of kites

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K S S Pillai
After the ruckus jolted me out of my sleep, it took me a few minutes to realize that it was Makar Sankranti, and everybody was getting ready to rush to the terrace.
Though the festival is celebrated throughout the country and also in some countries abroad, it has a special significance in Gujarat. More than anything else, it is the festival of kites here. It is also called Uttarayan as the sun changes its journey from the southern to the northern hemisphere, marking the end of the winter season and the beginning of the spring.
Sporadic kites start appearing in the sky immediately after the new year, slowly increasing their number as the D-day approaches. By the morning of Makar Sankranti, the sky swarms with hundreds of kites of different sizes and colours, dancing in the gentle morning breeze. From early morning, the terraces of the buildings in our housing society get crowded with men, women, and children belonging to different generations.
Grandfathers and grandmothers, wearing goggles and fancy caps against the sun, are as enthusiastic as their children and grandchildren in manoeuvring the kites with strategic tugs on the string or letting them go free for a while, according to the whims of the wind. They vie with one another in flying their kites high in the sky, while trying to cut the string of as many others as possible. The open ground in front of the society is no exception. It is as if childhood has come back to all. The elders even take time off to offer tips to the young ones on the strategy of kite-flying.
Faint notes of popular film songs and the sound of drum-beats waft from the distance. It is also the time for a friendly competition with the neighbours on their terraces, each trying to cut the rival’s kite loose. Now and then, the whole area reverberates with a collective yell of joy and triumph ‘Kai Po Che’ (We Have Cut!) when a string is cut, and a kite tumbles down, closely followed by urchins armed with long poles to catch it even before it touches the ground. The scene will remain unchanged till it is too dark to fly kites.
As the wind often plays a spoilsport, there is a prayer on everyone’s lips for one strong enough to launch the kites and keep them flying. Since cutting the string of the rival’s kite is considered a triumph, serious competitors used to be armed, till recently, with imported strings that caused the death and injury of not only birds but also people on the road.
As the number of casualties rose every year, many state governments have banned the use of that kind of string. A common sight on the roads these days is people on bikes protecting their necks with rolls of shawls. Kite-flying is so popular in the state that enthusiasts from different countries land here with kites of different sizes and colours and rolls of strings to take part in the kite festivals.
It is also the time for renewing mutual bonds and spending carefree hours in revelry with friends and relatives. Different types of vegetables are available in plenty. ‘Undhiyu’, and ubadiyu, prepared with mixed vegetables like brinjal, potatoes, sweet potatoes, purple yam, and other vegetables, are prepared and consumed in plenty. Chikki, made of sesame seeds, peanuts, and jaggery, is another item eaten in large quantity on this day.
Kite flying is not devoid of its share of philosophy either. Since a kite can remain airborne only as long as it is anchored to the ground with someone holding its string, one is reminded that freedom goes hand-in-hand with some control. And, just as a strong, opposing wind is essential for a kite to soar into the sky, the best in you is brought out only when you face a struggle.
(The author is a retired professor of English. A regular contributor to The Kashmir Vision, his articles and short stories have appeared in various national and international publications)

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