The landlord of the house where we are staying proudly leads us up a narrow stairway, past the two floors. The entire house is strewn with furniture of the kind we would exhibit with a view that generates a sense of envy in our neighbours. The walls are a veritable gallery of beautiful paintings and exquisite artifacts.
We had arrived here in the old part of Ahmedabad the day before, and negotiated narrow and crowded lanes full of shoppers and shops selling their wares for the big day, Makar Sankranti. This morning we had woken up early and had tea with our hosts.
Our host throws open the door and we step out onto the sunny terrace. The entire sky is teeming with kites of all sizes and colors. Not a single terrace is empty. The atmosphere is wonderfully festive, as all families gather on the rooftops for group kite-flying fun. Or is it kite fighting? 🙂 This also leads to many social gatherings that would not otherwise occur. Many Gujaratis who live outside the state choose this time to make their trip home.
There are people of every age flying kites, holding the phirki or spool of thread or helping in other ways, including some who are distributing snacks and tea to the players. These special snacks include laddoos, undhiyu, Jalebi or surati jamun and are must for the occasion.
After spending some time with the younger members of the host family we prepare to leave for the grand International kite festival site.
An auto-rickshaw takes us to the site of the event. The roads are quite crowded and the auto drops us off about 1km from the main entrance.
The International Kite Festival in India is held in Ahmedabad, Gujarat every year on the occasion of Makar sankranti, as part of the official celebration of Uttarayan. This festival could be called a Gujarati phenomenon, when almost all normal activities are shut down in the state and everyone takes to the rooftops and roadways with their neighbors to kite flying.
Though Uttarayan is a special day of the Hindu calendar, it is said that the idea of flying kites to celebrate the date arrived with Muslims from Persia and it has now transcended all religious boundaries. No matter what your background or beliefs are, if you are in Gujarat in January, you will find yourself flying kites with everyone else.
As we near the venue of the international festival we see huge kites of shapes we had never seen before. An octopus is flying alongside a stingray. We join the sea of humanity making its way into the grounds. One part of the huge grounds is fenced off for the professional kite-flyers and another for the inevitable food stalls.
The enthusiasm is contagious; the energy is electric and the mood, festive! Kids perched on their parents’ shoulders shout in delight and their elders enjoy the spectacle equally. I can see only the top of the heads of people! I see a team of 6 people trying to launch a huge kite shaped as a parachute with its top cut-off. The team runs with the strings, more like strong nylon ropes. As the kite lifts off there is big roar of applause. It was short-lived as the kite comes back to the ground. More adjustments are needed and the team gets back to work.
In the meanwhile there is another roar from the crowd and I see a tiger starts to fly and in no time it goes so high that it looks like a kitten. A dolphin approaches from another direction, a sailboat and baby elephant are wafted upwards, and a jellyfish is making a beeline for Salman Khan.
Kite-flyers from other countries have brought their kites too. Japan, Italy, the UK, Canada, Brazil, Indonesia, Australia, the USA, Malaysia, Singapore, France, and China are represented here I am told. The main competition is to battle one another, cut the rival’s string and bring down his kite.
After spending a few hours I make my way towards the exit, where suddenly I am confronted by none other than Priyanka Chopra! Of course she is just about ready to take off on string!
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