Saturday, January 14, 2006

Fight in the Sky

Birds and clouds cleared the way, leaving a perfect bluescreen for the confetti explosion above. Kites of all colors dotted the sky, hundreds of them, circling and dashing round one another in the annual friendly fight called Uttarayan (literally, “to go north” – it marks the day when the sun goes to the northern hemisphere, denoting the decline of winter and the coming of more colorful days). This kite-flying festival is a treasured holiday in Ahmedabad, and this is the first time I’ve been in India long enough to see it.

Bamboo kites are manufactured in small homes and on street corners for weeks before the festival begins. The kite string is enhanced with crushed glass held together by rice paste, making each string a weapon used to cut other kites out of the sky. The entire city spends the day up on its terraces and rooftops, with plenty of kites, sweets, and music around to keep the energy levels high, as people vie with their neighbors to see whose kites survive longest.
Fingers are taped in an attempt to avoid bleeding cuts. Power lines and trees are laced with the carcasses of disgraced kites, and young boys run with tall bamboo poles to retrieve them as prizes.

In the morning, my parents and I went to a relatives’ terrace, and I began to learn the ways of the kitefighter. I’ve flown kites many times, but steering them for deadly purpose is a different ballgame. The first three times I flew, I was easily embarrassed by veteran flyers who quickly sent my kites to a spinning demise. So I let my dad take the reins, and watched as his childhood skills came back to him in beautiful form…he cut a few competitors from the sky while showing me when to pull the string, when to let loose, and how to keep the kite in control. Feeling like a contender at last, I flew high – so high we could barely keep track of the kite, and I had to rely on the pull of the string rather than eyesight to guide me – and knocked three kites into oblivion before finally being cut loose.

The atmosphere was sunny, breezy, and exhilarating. We snacked on chikki and sucked sweetness from freshly peeled sugarcane. We trash-talked and laughed with neighbors. Whenever a kite was cut, we would hear screams of kaippo chhe!, and join in the hysterical laughter.

In the afternoon, I went to Naranpura, where the terraces are so close together you can jump across them with ease, and you have to watch yourself to avoid being bombed by falling kites or sliced by wayward string. At night I met up with Sachin and we flew tukkals, which are kites that have a trail of candles attached to the string, so that all you see are floating lights in the black sky. To make a tukkal, you first fix candles with melted wax into accordion-like paper cylinders, then tie the cylinders to the kite string and let the whole caboodle fly. What results is a mesmerizing illusion that you are not flying a kite at all, but sending flickering fires up to the stars. Of course, there are always white-kite predators at night waiting to cut your tukkal, so that the candles fall back to earth. (This happened to us…but don’t ask me what became of the fallen flames…we didn’t see any buildings catch fire, so no harm, no foul).

I’m tired and happy, and I’m going to board another train tonight…this time to Kutch, to volunteer at the Bidada medical camp. I’ll be gone for a week, and will post again when I return. In the meantime, thanks for the comments, and if anyone wants anything from India, let me know soon so I can try and get it for you!


Blogger Unknown said...

great post, Rishi. I would have loved to habe been there in Ahmedabad to enjoy the proceedings.
I've linked you're post.

11:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Rishi... That description of the Uttarayan was so beautiful... It is still one of my favorite indian festivals, but havent partook in one in over 6 years... but reading your post made me relive it!!!

1:33 AM  
Blogger twinkledave2710 said...

thank you for taking your time and writing this blog on my favourite festival Uttarayan.
one can feel the festival spirting reading your blog.

hemant PatnagDori

11:41 PM  

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