This little sentence holds so many memories and oodles of nostalgia – of bachpan, of Sankrant – the exciting kite-festival, of til ke laddu made by mom, of my motherland – India, of my amazing city – Mumbai, of changing times and of good times. Sankrant celebrated on 14th January each year is also called Uttarayan and it marks the day when winter begins to turn into summer, as per the Indian/ Hindu calendar. It is also popularly known as Makar Sankranti since it is the promising sign for farmers that the sun is back and that the harvest season is soon approaching. Infact it is considered to be one of the most important harvest days in India.#MakarSakranti is a time for kite flying. My memories from childhood fun. Click To Tweet
According to the Hindu Panchang, there are two Ayans (Solstices) in a year. In other words, the sun changes its position twice every year. These changes are known as Uttarayan (summer solstice) and Dakshinayan (winter solstice). Uttarayan is the period when the sun travels from South to North and Makar Sankranti marks the beginning of this six month long period where days are longer and nights are shorter, the sky is clear and is filled with clouds. According to the Hindu Shastras, Uttarayan is considered to be a symbol of positivity. People wait for Sankranti to occur as it also marks the commencement of auspicious times. Worship, austerities, yagyas, donations, charities etc. performed during this period are of immense importance because it is believed that all these ceremonies give hundred times better results.
But coming back to ‘Kai Po Chhe’ (and I am not referring to the movie), the actual day of Sankranti was always so fun-filled, electrifying and full of happiness back then. All because of the thrill of flying kites. The symbolism of this festival is to show the awakening of the Gods from their deep slumber. According to Indian history, it is said that India created the tradition of kite flying due to the Kings and Royalties, later also followed by Nawabs who found the sport entertaining and a way to display their skills and power. What began as a sport for kings became immensely popular over time and reached the masses. Though Kite flying has been the regional event in Gujarat for several years, it is celebrated with a lot of fervour in many other parts of the country, especially in Mumbai. The first International Festival was celebrated in 1989 when people from all across the globe participated and showcased their innovative kites. And in recent times, at a 2012 event, the International Kite Festival was inaugurated by the then Chief Minister Mr. Narendra Modi. So much for the popularity and love for our very own Sankranti!
For me, it used to be a day when the sky was filled with colours and looked super mesmerising. Bright colours, myriad sizes and the diamond shapes up in the sky giving a sense of unparalled freedom, swinging away in the cool winter breeze of 14th January; the sky was always a spellbinding sight. It’s only after you had absorbed the hypnotic skies that the other senses started to take over and you realised the commotion that was going on. Every fraction of a second you heard someone shout ‘kai po chhe’ (I’ve cut that kite!) and come back to planet Earth with a jolt. Well, the jolt was also because the dear brother was shouting… “arre thodi dheel do didi, main pench lada raha hoon”… “oh, haan haan” I would reply and adhere to his instructions. Just like I was the ‘pani-wala’ man sometimes for my brothers while they played cricket, I was also their ‘firki-wali’ girl helping them by holding on to the firki (string holder) and maanja (the string used to fly the kites). Oh! What fun it used to be. And sometimes if I did well in my allotted task, my brother would also allow me to fly the kite. Though I wasn’t very good at it, and most times I really couldn’t fly the kite right in the beginning, with good luck and good wind sometimes I could accomplish the good deed and would be praised by my elder brother (younger than me though, but elder of the two brothers that I have).
Even just holding the kite would give me such a beautiful sense of achievement. Why should boys have all the fun? Girls can have fun too and besides, there was nothing that I couldn’t do; flying kites included. But being the elder sister, there were other responsibilities like ensuring that the brothers and their friends were well fed while they enjoyed their much awaited and much loved festival. By the way, did I mention that all this drama used to take place on the little terrace of our home building? So I would run down to the house and get the scrumptious and yummy little til (sesame) laddus made by mom. We were allowed to eat the laddus after she put the first lot as an offering to the deities in the home mandir. So I would fetch a whole bowl of them for the kite flyers and keep feeding them while they fought with others, cut the other kites with their strong strings and made a big deal out of it.
The preparation for the D-day used to start much earlier. It was mandatory for my parents to give my brothers a special allowance for the kite festival and my uncle would take them to the special markets that were set up for the festival. They would choose the kites and strings to their heart’s contest and start their practice sessions before the actual day. The kites are usually made with materials such as plastic, leaves, wood, metal, nylon and other scrap materials but the special ones for Sankranti are made of light-weight paper and bamboo and are mostly rhombus shaped with a central spine and a single bow. Dye and paint are also added to increase the glamour quotient of the kites. The lines are covered with mixtures of glue and ground glass which when dried are rolled up and attached to the rear – also known as the famous ‘firki’. The strings are pretty sharp and cut skin. These types of sharp lines are specially used on the Sankranti fighter kites to cut down other kites during the festival and also other kite fighting events. All I can remember is that the boys used to be so excited about the kite-flying and kept making plans to ensure that too many of their kites were not cut by the other flyers and how they would cut a lot of the others and ensure they pulled those kites towards themselves strategically so that they would add to their collection. Plans, plan and so many plans! It used to be fun just to listen to them.
So this was the other part of the thrill. When the kite flyers used to cut each other’s kites and the kites fell, there would literally be a stampede to snatch the kite. There were little boys prowling all over the place just to get the fallen kites and run away. Many street urchins would do the same. Our house is on the fifth floor of the building which also happens to be the top floor and many times the boys used to come inside our large verandah to get their kites because they would get stuck there. It used to be such a riot and sometimes mom would shoo them away because of the commotion and mess they created. But it used to be such a beautiful day and I really miss it.
Long live the ‘patang’ and the happy memories associated with it!