Slithery Encounters

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This story was published in a national daily – Please click below

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-metroplus/slithery-encounters/article19959330.ece

 

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Wielding flash lights we walk into open fields that are still swathed in early hour hush and darkness. Two young men, Raja and Sekar of the Irula ethnic community lead us, carrying canvas bags, a crowbar and a scythe. The flash lights help us search for what we have come after and avoid stepping on anything wriggly on our path that might result in agony. We are into an hour of walking and nothing exciting just yet. The day is starting to break and the Irulas have left us behind. Just as our zeal starts to ebb, a meek call from a distance, viola, they have caught a snake !

After the African safari circuit, tiger sighting and an Amazon expedition, a snake-walk has remained unchecked in my wild-wishlist and what better place to do it than in our own ‘wild Chennai’ ! Having long heard about the Irulas and their ability in tracking and handling snakes, now is an opportunity to see them in their elements. Their international foray into Florida swamps to catch pythons drew much attention in the news media early this year.

 

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The first catch of the morning is an Indian Rat snake, which is about 5 feet long and looks beautifully streamlined. We get a short lesson on its characteristics as it is being held by its tail. The Rat snake is pale brown in colour, can grow up to nine feet long and preys on rodents. Known as ‘Sara pambu’ in Tamil, it is non-venomous. On release, the snake vanishes into the bush in a flash.

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The first sight gives us a sense of justification for giving up a few hours of sleep this morning and now we are pumped up for more. With the day well awake by now, we walk on across the fields punctuated by bushes and thorny plants. Again, we hear the familiar voice of Raja from afar. The two men walk toward us in their calm demeanor with a catch on hand, and call out in a subdued voice ‘Spectacled Cobra’ – a prize catch indeed ! Cobra is among the big-four of south Asian venomous snakes. With deadly venom as artillery, this one is no pushover and means business with a ‘don’t mess with me’ attitude. With the hood well spread in threatening posture and in typical cobra-stance, the snake surveys around like a filmy action-hero surrounded by gangsters. All the while, he keeps a watch on the handler squatting by. A short lapse of concentration could make the difference between life and death for the Irula men. Now, Raja gently eases his hold on its tail, but the snake holds its ground and doesn’t make a dash to get away as we expect. ‘If I get up, he will run away’ he says. Finally, the Cobra slips back into its fortress, a nearby bush.

 

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The spring is high in our walk yet the men are out of our radar again. Thanks to overnight rains, the breeze is pleasant and the clouds that still float hide the Sun, making the walk far from tiring. We track down the men and find them furiously digging into a burrow, sliding their bare hands in and out periodically to feel for snakes. As the wait stretches, doubts start to creep in and the impulse to move-on grows. Again, the men catch a snake out of thin air, this time it is a Sand Boa. For its proportions it is hard to believe the snake could gulp down a bird like the Nightjar. The snake is easily identifiable by its small head, thick body, pointed tail and lethargic movement. Though slow-moving, the snake constantly looks for an escape route from its captors. After a long look at it, Raja gently places it back at its rat-hole home. ‘When I was younger, I used to walk with family elders into the fields and watch them catch rats and snakes. Now, the acquired skills help us catch snakes for venom-extraction, which is a crucial antidote for snake bites’ he reminisces as we walk further.

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We end the morning with one more find, a long and slender creation in the reptile family, a bronze-back tree snake. This has a bronze stripe running from head to tail, found in the open and are arboreal. They are fast-moving and navigate branches with an elegant ease. Aside from Cobra, all the snakes we sight are non-venomous, yet they are often mistaken to be dangerous and killed. An educational outing like this helps dispel the myth about these exceptional creations of nature and also helps understand their role in the overall scheme of things. Snakes keep a check on exploding rodent population and thus help farmers a great deal. Finally, not to forget the fringe attractions along the way of various species of birds, beetles, geckos, scorpions and other critters.

Forest Scorpian

Where to find snakes around Chennai

In spite of the city mushrooming into a concrete-jungle lately, according to MCBT, snake sightings and rescue, both venomous and non-venomous, are constantly reported from Adyar, Vadapalani, KK Nagar to many other parts of the city. Snakes thrive along Cooum river and in Pallikaranai marsh, Guindy National Park, the fields off of the East-coast Road to name a few.

Spectacled or Indian Cobra

Distributed throughout the Indian sub-continent including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal but does not occur in high altitudes and desert regions.

Venom Type: Neurotoxic

Characteristics for identification: Easily identified by broad hood and ‘spectacle-mark’ behind the hood. Colour of Spectacled Cobra varies from yellow, brown to darker shades based on geographical areas. Commonly found in dense forests, grasslands, wetlands, human habitation and agricultural lands. Hides in holes, mounds, caves, piles and cracks. Always raise hood on provocation or to threaten its enemy. Grows upto 5.5 feet in length. Scales appear oval-shaped and the belly colouration range from grey, tan, yellow, brown to reddish or even black. Though terrestrial in general, can climb if needed. Wide range of diet include frogs, toads, lizards, rodents, birds, small mammals and other snakes.

It is one among the four deadly venomous snakes occur in our country. Highly revered in mythology and culture and the cobra idol is worshipped in temples across India particularly during Nag Panchami. Hindu gods, Shiva carry one coiled around his neck while Vishnu recline on one with multiple cobra-heads. Snake-charmers with their cobras in wicker-baskets were a common sight until recent years but now the snake is protected under Indian wildlife protection act (1972).

Snakes around Chennai

Non-venomous :

Common Sand Boa

Red sand Boa

Common Vine Snake

Buff-striped Keelback

Checkered Keelback Watersnake

Common Bronzeback Tree Snake

Common wolf Snake

Indian Rat Snake

Venomous :

Spectacled Cobra

Saw Scaled Viper

Russell’s Viper

Common Krait

Resources

a youtube video by MCBT – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0aUl-jQsLWs

web-page – Indiansnakes.org

book – Snakes of India by Romulus Whitaker

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Dholavira – an Indus valley site

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Indus Valley site (believed to be 3300–1300 BCE; mature period 2600–1900 BCE – Dholavira is located in Rann of Kutch of Gujarat. It is relatively a new discovery, excavated in 1990s by a team led by R S Bisht.The excavation brought to light the urban planning and architecture and unearthed large number of antiquities such as seals, beads, animal bones, gold, silver, terracotta ornaments, pottery and bronze vessels. Archaeologists believe that Dholavira was an important centre of trade between settlements in south Gujarat, Sindh, Punjab and Western Asia.

One of the unique features of Dholavira is the sophisticated water conservation system of channels and reservoirs, the earliest found anywhere in the world, built completely of stone. The city had massive reservoirs, three of which are exposed. They were used for storing fresh water brought by rains or to store water diverted from two nearby rivulets. This clearly came in response to the desert climate and conditions of Kutch, where several years may pass without rainfall. A seasonal stream which runs in a north-south direction near the site was dammed at several points to collect water. An elaborate system of drains to collect water from the city walls and house tops to fill these water tanks. One of the most important findings of Dholavira has been a signboard with Indus Script. When visited, I could still see large number of fossils and sherds scattered all around the place.

Folk Traditions of the states of Bihar and Haryana

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Haryana

Haryana has rich tradition of music and dance for various occasions such as wedding, festivals and so on and for seasons such as harvest, sowing of seeds, monsoon and so forth.The music in general falls into two categories, classical such as songs for Teej, Phag and Holi and rural or country music that narrates legendary tales.

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Phag is a seasonal dance by the farmers, expressing the joy of bounty crop.

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Bihar

Here the folk songs deal with various events in the life of a common man.

The following songs called  Sohar that are performed during childbirth

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The influence of Bihari music is seen in countries such as Mauritius, South Africa and the Caribbean islands where a large number of Bihari indentured labourers were taken by the British during the nineteenth century.

Beats in the wilderness

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The piece was carried in a national daily

http://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/rainforest-music-festival/article19553075.ece

 

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And here is the unedited version with pictures and video clips –

Music in the Forest

Lush green forest cover and peaking Santubong mountain form a glorious backdrop to annual Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak, Malaysia. Though music has travelled in the form of festival from confined concert-halls to various open-air venues, at this unique setting of 17 acres of forest land, the festival has taken a quantum leap since its beginning 20 years ago. The 3-day long festival held in the month of July hosts renowned musicians, both indigenous and international besides medley of activities.

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A couple of hours flying from Kuala Lumpur lands me in Kuching, the capital city of Sarawak and the base to get to the festival. Shuttle buses are organized from the city-centre, with the focus on reducing carbon emission, for the 35km ride to Sarawak Cultural Village, a ’living’ museum and the venue for the festival. People show up in droves at the gate in the opening hours of the morning but an efficient entry system in place keeps the wait-time to minimal.

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Workout

All-day events begin in the morning and wind down well past midnight. There is something for everyone to keep the zing going. To sustain the energy-level for such a long stretch at the festival, it is better to kick-start the day with one of the Wellness-programmes that focus on mental, spiritual and physical through yoga workshops, meditation sessions and Tai-chi. Yoga enthusiasts can get to choose from various types such as hatha, budokon, vinyasa and yin but ‘bring your own yoga mat’ is the norm here. For movement-oriented, Zumba, Bodycombat, Tai-chi, Capoeira and traditional Malay art of self-defence called Silat are the choice.

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Activities

The festival ground is designed such, a boardwalk around a water-body would make sure catch all the sights and sounds. Talks on wealth of plants in the rainforest, personal-care oil extraction, soap-making from natural ingredients are at Sarawak Biodiversity centre. Cheering kids holding mothers’ arms lead me to Pustaka Bookaroo, where children get initiated into arts, crafts and music, justifying the festival claim that it is family friendly. There is a heavy emphasis on Sape, a local ‘boat lute’ of 4-strings made of hollowed-wood, through history and exhibition, art of making and playing workshops, to preserve and promote local musical heritage. Rainforest World Craft Bazaar is an alluring stop over for souvenir hunters as it spreads a wide range of arts and crafts of indigenous people from garments, pants, batik, beadwork to tapestries for which the raw materials are sourced from the forest. Indeed, tree-bark clothing are also up for grabs. Inking the skin with an ethnic tattoo here would stay indelible even after returning home.

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Music

The festival aims to showcase music and dance rooted in cultures from around the world. Two stages, ‘Jungle and Tree’, aptly named for they are flanked by forest trees, are the focus for the prime-time mega acts. This year, over 25 bands from South Africa, U.K., Guinea, Cape Verde, Columbia, Belgium to Tahiti are featured. The bands play back to back, alternating the stages with no breaks, creating a seamless musical transition though the sounds are distinct as they cover a range of genres. When the venue live up to its name and the skies open, revellers literally ‘dance away the evening in the rain’ as they come all prepared to slide on the muddy ground.

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As Sarawak is located just north of the equator, it is hot and sweaty. The only air-conditioned refuge at the grounds is the Theatre stage that hosts afternoon shows that are chamber-style, intimate and classical for seated audience. The music here is soothing and help unwind and take a break from all the walking done.

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Then there are ‘Mini Sessions’ that host over 20 sessions in 3 days featuring lecture-demos, interactive dance workshops and thematic performances on ‘percussion’, ‘wind’ ‘strings’, ‘keys’ and so on by bringing together musicians, based on the theme, from various bands. Each musician gets to demonstrate his instrument individually and the session ends on collective synergy with them all play together to enthral the now informed audience. These shows are held in the replica of traditional houses and halls of the Sarawak ethnic communities that are part of permanent exhibits at the Sarawak Cultural Village.

Participatory and free-style Drum Circle in the afternoons draw an exuberant gathering where some 100 percussion instruments are handed out to pound out the rhythms.

 

 

Food

A wide choice of Asian cuisine is on the platter, from scrumptious fried snacks to savouries and ice-cream to fresh juice to beat the heat. But for growing number of vegetarians and vegans, the options are very limited and that is something the organizers need to pay attention in the future years, as part of their green initiative like tree-planting, recycling and food-waste management. Food marts are equipped with seating area and entertainment zone for the buskers and clowns to stir up the appetite. Cooking demonstrations, workshops and food-tasting satiate the culinary drive in those who choose to explore beyond the dining tables.

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From a modest 300 music lovers in 1998 today the festival attracts over 20,000 from across the continents and has become an eagerly anticipated event in the annual musical-calendar. “I have been coming here for many years and the music offered used to be lot more traditional but now that has taken a turn and attracts more of young and hip dancing crowd” says Kumar, a Malaysian resident. Taking advantage of being in Borneo, I hit the forest trails to catch the sights of two well-known endemic species, Orangutan and Proboscis monkey, to cap off my sojourn.

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Details

Both Air Asia and Malaysia Airlines fly to Kuching

stay – 3 resort hotels, a hostel and a campsite near the festival grounds,

plenty of hotels in the city-centre

website – rwmf.net

Momasar – a Rajasthani village festival

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Stage for home-grown folk arts

As my taxi changes gear from highway to village-dirt-lane, a street dog barking furiously runs along for it finds a foreign moving object in its neighbourhood in this early hour of the day. We outdo the dog by a long way, and I could hear strains of music wafting in through morning stillness. I ask the driver to head in that melodic-way. Musicians belong to Islāmic faith singing Hindu bhajans in the courtyard of quaint Hanuman Dhora temple at dawn opens the festival. Villagers sitting cross-legged on the blanket are taking in the bliss. White-clothed and turbaned elders walk in at their pace while head-covered women in bright red Rajasthani sarees gather in a corner on the blanket. A few SUVs to my left and camels inside house walls to my right. Desert sand underneath my feet and peacocks trot at higher elevations looking for breakfast, this hour is indeed sublime !

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A village 160 miles north-west of Jaipur in Rajasthan is hosting the 6th edition of Shekhawati Utsav, organized by Jaipur Virasat Founndation that works to keep and promote traditional art forms of the state. The festival runs for 2 days, staging 200 artists from various regions and attracts a few thousand crowd to this remote hamlet, mostly from nearby villages and also a handful of die-hard fans from abroad.

We break for tea and simple refreshments at a local temple-hall. I meet up with a group who come from US and various European countries. “Marc and I chanced upon this festival last year and this year we are here to play. Yes, we were suggested city gigs but we settled for this unique village one” says Markus from Germany. In a first, this edition would feature a non-Rajasthani band in Marc Sinan and Iva Bittova. Energized by tea and with the help of a local guide, we stroll through the maze of lanes for local attractions such as temples and century old charming havelis that are painted with frescos, belonged to wealthy merchants of yesteryear.

Music at rural settings

I enter Patwari ki Haveli, an exquisite heritage building of Momasar, for ‘Music in the afternoon’. A group of women sing welcome-songs at the massive door. An array of activities in the courtyard include men spinning yarn from drop-spindle, rope-making demonstration and young students of wood-craft display their creative works. “This reflects the motive of our Foundation – preserve and encourage tradition in all forms” says Vinod Joshi, Director of JVF and the force behind this festival, which also serves him as a pay-back to his birth place. Along the wall, Kathodi performers present a unique image as two men blow into a mouth-piece of a vertical wind instrument, a man on scraper and another rubs a thin metal rod placed over a brass plate to produce the drone effect. “They live in the forest and make their own musical instruments” says Joshi. A flight of stairs in the haveli brings up a compact hall that is open to the skies where the 80 year young Safi Mohammed sings with gusto often tossing and turning the tanpura on his hand, more than strumming on it.

A quick stop for snacks at the temple hall and as the light starts to fade, we head to a farm. Though it is dark, I could get a sense of the expanse of the place and feel my respiratory system is more at ease now. As the wind blows across under starry sky, a dimly lit make-shift platform offers space for more folk art traditions. A red-turbaned, white dhoti clad man with anklets thumps his feet and waves his arms around to the beats and singing of two men playing on maante drum, a large clay-pot – their silhouette leave a surreal feel. While Marc and Iva sounds are a novelty in village-ears, the day ends at Taal Maidan, an open-air ground, at midnight with “Kuchamani Khayal”, a folk-theatre tradition from the Nagaur region of Rajasthan and is very much on the decline.

Curtain downs with a bang

Second day begins with ‘Baal Mela‘ that features a few thousand young boys and girls from 13 different schools in the village to get them re-acquainted to their rich roots and help them understand that tradition and progress could go hand in hand. “This is very crucial for the future of what we are now involved in” says Joshi, who sounds keen on covering the entire spectrum in his quest. The children get to see artists who do not make it to center stage this year, yet perform amid children’s’ competitions and workshops.

On the grand finale evening, hoards of villagers stream in one direction, young girls giggle their way in, boys bond with arms around shoulders while women look in unwind-mode with their day chores done with. Now my taxi struggles its way through this mass in this otherwise no traffic zone. As I reach brightly lit Taal Maidan, the place is buzzing, children play in sand chasing each other, flies and bugs have a field day around high wattage lamps and even crawl on people, excited in their sudden-found-illuminated-lives. The stage that exudes Rajasthani decor is all set for the show. An endless kaleidoscope of folk forms that include Dhol-thali, Kalbeliya, Gair, Bhapang, Kachhigodi, Sahariya Swang dance unfold on front that last well into the wee hours.

Though a comfortable hotel stay is some 25 miles away, the festival affords to experience folk art at its provenance. While Langa and Manganiar musicians are hot invitees on world stage, JVF aims to bring the world to their homes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This piece by yours truly was carried in India’s national daily –

http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/A-stage-for-home-grown-arts/article16644617.ece

 

Sex in stone

Well, if you think we have ‘evolved’ in our innovative ways in the centuries past, going by the carvings in stone, the answer is a big ‘No’. I have left out documenting scenes of gingerly orgies, perhaps personal taste unconsciously played out in that omission. The temples in Odisha seem to have been lot more ‘liberal’ than the ones in rest of India. I wonder if the proximity to Khajuraho had its influence here, as the temples in both places built around the same period. Most of the temple sculptures consist of erotic, music and dance in nature giving the impression that it must have been one party-town! At large, the niches on the walls alternate between eroticism, musicians and dancers. No wonder the most sensuous of the Indian classical dance form Odissi has its origin here !

In general, the artists and sculptors seem to have had lot more freedom to express themselves though the administration in those days was primarily under the ruler of the province. There is even an inscription belong to circa 10 CE of the famous king Rajaraja in Thanjavur that says only the administrators are reportable to the court whereas the sculptors have full freedom to express their art. After all, how many gods and animals the sculptors could think of chiseling in, as they needed variety in subject. It is said the reason behind finding such bold and blatant erotic sculptures in the outer walls of Indian temples is that the pleasure-stage has to be ‘passed’ before we ‘reach’ higher-consciousness that is in the form of a deity at the sanctum. And on the ground, after satiating this strong and powerful force of nature, through self-inquiry, one is expected to reach the higher plane. Kamasutra by Vatsayana too written with similar views on life. This perspective is in tune with the four entities, Dharma (duty/righteous living) Artha (wealth) Kama (pleasure) and Moksha (liberation), that Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) prescribes for a common man. These stages help mellow gradually, as not everyone is blessed with ‘sudden-enlightenment’. Whatever be the reason, the sculptures certainly evoke curiosity and interest and draw tons of tourists to these temples. Let alone the text Kamasutra, nothing in comparison did ever exist to these ‘open sex manual’ anywhere else on this planet.

From being so liberal, how did India become conservative? I recall watching a documentary on Africa where the local black women express a confused-look at topless European women on the African beach, and the narrator goes ‘ these women must be thinking when they were ‘topless’, the colonial occupants covered them up in the process of civilizing, and now their colonial descendants come over here and look ‘uncivilized”. Many of the famous Chola bronzes of the 10 CE are topless. So the colonists in India too must have had a role in bringing about a conservative mind-set. Prior to that, the burka-clad Islāmic invaders enforced their fuddy-duddy ways and many Hindu Indian women started to cover to save themselves from invading rapists and kidnappers whose idea was to expand their faith numbers.It is said this is the reason behind the practice of women covering their face today, particularly on the western front states such as Gujarat, Rajasthan as through these regions Islam forced itself into India. These are indicative of an open society that changed with Islāmic invasion followed by Victorian/colonial values from the West.

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Women in Rajasthan today

Kites soar high on Uttarayan

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As a 3 or 4 yr old, I had this hunch one day that an orange colored kite that got snapped in  battle with another landed on the open terrace of the house in which I was born. On going up the flight of stairs, indeed an orange kite was lying at the door way to the open terrace. And that was the earliest kite-link I could recall and the fascination continues to this day. It is the maneuverable paper/fighter kites that interest me and not the ‘dumb’ polythene ones.

Hours of my school day evenings and weekends were spent on terrace-top, watching  kite-battles, flying, and even got hold of the ones that swung my way. A polythene one will always be packed for beach outings, no matter where in the world. Procuring large and colorful Pakistani and Afghani battle-lost-kites from elsewhere, I would be the lone kite-flier in the great-lawn of Central park, New York on the weekends. Maneuvering the kite close down to the weekenders lying on the lawn would make their faces lit up in glee.

Fly a kite Fly a kite

Such a pretty sight

Sheer pull of string injects life into

As it soars up touches heaven and

On nose-dive back to earth

Right left and somersault

What control have I but on let go the string

Free at last and out of sight !

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But nothing quite prepared me for what’s below –

Kites literally fill the skies of Gujarat during Makara Sankranti, also called Uttarayan festival. Uttarayan, the ascent of Sun into northern hemisphere, entering the tropics thus heralding the beginning of warmer months is celebrated here in a unique manner and kites take prime time and are ubiquitous. The timing for this sport could not be any better as the skies are spotless blue and the breeze is right enough to lift the kites aloft. The whole state shuts down its regular shop and hits the rooftop

On alighting the flight in Ahmedabad, I am blown away by the colorful adornment of entire Sardar Vallahbhai Patel terminal with kites. As the taxi speeds toward the city, a bit of craning at the window reveals a sky dotted with varying hues. Kites are not just in the skies alone, but on the hands of almost everyone on the street, cutting across age, gender and faith. Trees flower nothing but kites during this time and the power-lines are embellished with trapped ones. Bill-boards and bulletin boards carry kite designs and even the idols at the temples are decorated with kite-like ornaments.

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Taking advantage of this fervor, Gujarat Tourism has been organizing International Kite festival since 1989, just for two days before Sankranti as Sankranti day and the day after are altogether a different ballgame in town. The participants constitute kite flying clubs and individual enthusiasts from world over. Some 140-150 fliers from 25 plus countries that range from USA to Japan and from different states in India unleash the strings. Revelers come in droves to Sabarmati river front to take in the sights of kites of all shapes, sizes and colors, deftly maneuvered by both Indian and International fliers. The kites are in animal, from teddy bears to dragons, floral and in various other intricately crafted designs, and some even carry social messages. An eagle-like kite is swiped at by a bunch of live eagles, causing a flutter among the crowd. Some kites are so humongous and require a team of ten or more to handle. The kite fliers need to be preregistered to get in the arena. A tourism event like this is of course packed with food-court, handicraft shops, Gujarat state pavilion, games for children and rock music shows. If the legs get tired at this day-long event, the beautifully laid promenade along the Sabarmati river is the place to relax the muscles. Ahmedabad has a kite museum too where kites from 24 countries are exhibited. Gujarat Tourism does an excellent job of organizing this event with the same precision and care as they do for festivals like Navrathri, Rann Utsav and so on, not surprising for it functions in one of the most progressive states in the country.

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Unlike the well-behaved polythene kites at the river front on the first 2 days, the skies of Sankranti and the day after are ruled by mean-paper-fighter kites that are out to cut anything and everything near with the aid of ground-glass-coated manja (abrasive) string. This breathtaking spectacle has to be experienced from the pol. A pol is a self-contained neighborhood with cluster of adjoining houses that have open terrace, swathed in gated narrow lanes in the old quarters. There are roughly 600 such pols still left in the city of Ahmedabad, spared by the developers. The pol certainly has an old world charm and the people who live there do reflect a warmth that may be missing in the skyscrapers. As I wander through the lanes, a Gujarati family invites me to their terrace top for a life-time experience, something I have not imagined even in my wildest dreams. As I reach the rooftop, climbing four levels of dark narrow stairways, I can not believe what I see – the sky is a canvas of thousands of kites and colors and every single terrace is filled with humanity to the hilt, thus setting the atmosphere electric. And the noise level, caused by excitement and stereo speakers set up add to the mayhem. As my host family feeds me the kites to fly, not a single one on my hand lasts more than 5 minutes as the crisscrossing manja of nearby kites cuts the string, allowing no room to step aside. There is a constant parade of snapped kites in the air, sway in flowing rhythm, while the ones traveled its distance shower all around us. Kite-fliers pay scant attention to these side attractions and are fully focused on the kites on hand. Besides, such freebies have no appeal as the families stock up 300 plus kites of various sizes and 10 plus manja-spools called phirkis for the 2 day festival. Kids running after cut-kites in other cities of India would have a field day here and end up having a handful. Triumphant cries constantly emanate from the terrace that emerge victorious in cutting other kites.

 

The day on the terrace starts around 8 in the morning for the entire family, while friends and neighbors join in too for group flying, thus making the occasion a social gathering which otherwise is hard to come by in these busy days. “Its a total holiday for us and we spend the whole day at the terrace” says Mrs. Parmar, a resident at the pol. A sneaky lunch break at noon includes Gujarati delicacies like Jilehbi, fafda, till-ladhu, chikkis and the traditional mixed-veggie dish made only on this day called Undhiyu. While the kites battle it out up in the skies, a Chai (tea) break is taken in the late afternoon. And as the light start to fade, a dramatic transformation sweeps across the sky, as the kites’ place is now taken by thousands of Chinese lantern that sail gently in the direction of the wind. Such lit up sky leaves a sense of surrealism as we look up in awe. The traditional Tukkal or illuminated box kites, tied in series on a single line and gets launched in the sky has now given way to these relatively easier-to-handle Chinese lanterns. Fireworks too join in this galaxy of lights. When the line of lanterns starts to recede, it is time to crank up the music and shake the legs before calling it a day. The day after Sankranti follows similar schedule but with more gusto, more kites and more lanterns as it is the last chance to exhaust the stocks on hand, as most prefer not to carry forward old stocks into a new year. The city has a massive cleaning job on hand as manja thread and torn kites are scattered all over the place.

During Uttarayan, exclusive kite markets called Patang Bazar open up and the larger ones are at Delhi Darwaza and at Raipur. These 24-hour brightly-lit markets hit the peak the night before the big days as the crowd throng here in festive spirit and lap up the supplies in packets of huge numbers. The spending spree is simply mind-blowing. The markets carry kites and accessories, such as manja-spools and protective finger-bands that help prevent cuts on fingers when flying high-tension kites. As opposed to readily available manja-spools for common enthusiasts, serious fliers go for quality, custom-made manja on the side-walk that comes at a higher price and wait-time. “We are a family of seven and we start making the kites three months before the festival. Our kites price range from Rs.40 (about $1) for a packet of 20 pieces to Rs.600 for a packet of 5 pieces. The manja-spool range from Rs. 150 to 200 for 1000 yards” says a shop owner.

Kites have a long history in the region. Indian kings found the sport both entertaining and as well an expression of their prowess, but it probably took its time before reaching the masses. Today, kite manufacturing is a serious business worth around Rs. 500 crores ($100,000,000), as claimed by the then Chief Minister Modi himself during one of the inaugurations of the festival.

Whether you are a kite enthusiast or not, the festival is worth the stiff-neck and you will no doubt find yourself flying a kite in no time. A Gujarati family at the pol will only be too happy to share their festivities even if you not know them before.
Other details like next festival date, places to eat and stay and nearby sights can be found at http://www.Gujarattourism.com

The piece was carried in India’s national daily and in an Israeli magazine –

http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/come-fly-a-kite/article6730646.ece

http://www.esra-magazine.com/blog/post/kite-runners

note : still never miss when I sense something up in the sky…… do crane and look up !