Friday, March 02, 2007

The Basant Experience...

Shouts of Bo-kata (there is a cut) rang through the air. The rooftops were filled with thousands of people wielding a thousand more kites. The images we see solicit emotional reactions and in this case I was experiencing the spectrum of emotions. I sat in observation mode taking in certain bits of information for analysis for the first half hour of my experience. I was wondering to myself as to how I would go about communicating my experience to someone who has never witnessed this sight. The only visual I could conjure to properly describe this event was that it was an underwater city that came up to their rooftops to watch all the tropical fish do their dance in the sea. The colors were that of tropical fish off of some tropical island in some tropical area. There was a fresh breeze blowing with a storm approaching and thousands upon thousands of kites, small and large, were swimming the sky.

The rooftops were crowded with young, old and just about everything in the middle watching the festivities. 'Kite flying has been a passion with Lahorias who waxed eloquent of their kites and boasted of their accomplishments in this field'. It is said there there is no other place in the world where kite flying as a sport has reached such commanding heights as in Lahore. The guddas/guddis, as the kites are called here, come in so many different varieties and purposes: guddis, peris, guddas, Lucknow kats, patangs, teerahs, kups, etc. The guddi has a small tassel at the bottom while the male version, the gudda, has a triagular piece in place of the tassel. Kite making is an art and the artisans are still renowned for their crafts stamped to certify their authenticity. Spending all year labouriously crafting their kites for the winter kite flying season, these artisans would produce all the kites for Lahore, the principal center in the world for kite flying.

The art of producing the right kind of dore (string, cord or twine) was perfected in Lahore with just the perfect way of wrapping the cotton. There were three common thicknesses, 8, 10 and 18 - 10 being the most common and versatile. The well twisted and durable thread was rubbed with a mixture of flour paste and levigated glass until it became armoured. This made the dore so sharp that is caused blood to drip from many a finger holding it. This is why there have been kite flying bans in Pakistan, mainly due to one man getting decapitated from an armoured dore.

There is kite flying, then there is kite fighting. Pecha larana, the skill of entrapment: catching the other kite from above like a bird or pouncing on it like a lion or even wrapping around it like a boa, depending on the other kite their were many means of bringing one down in battle. The skill lay in crossing dore with an opponent until the vanquished kite, cut loose, floated helplessly over the rooftops performing it's majestic sad ballet. The victor and his teammate would announce the defeat of the rival with load cries of Bo-kata and throw a challenge for a return pecha. The cheers ring out in unison with a victorious rooftop jumping up and down and mocking the other kite flyers. The defeated rivals would accept the challenge and stir up a fresh kite out of the pile to fire up into the sky.

Often heard is the shrill of commotion on the rooftops and the boys would run with bamboo poles to catch a drifting kite. A falling kite in a street or bazar also created a stir and passers-by of all ages would run to catch the booty. Some boys could not afford to buy kites often and simply amused themselves by watching pechas and catching the falling kites. There was always a happy ending, whether it be in victory of cutting a dore, the accepting a challenge to gain redemption or the fallen heroes of the sky finding new homes and new life.

Food was laid out on the table with the special 'keema' stuffed purees, something distinct to Basant. The melding of music from stereos and radios drowned out the calls to honor a rematch. The elders of the family tapping their hands and feet, on one level of the rooftop, the youngsters all up on the highest part restringing their next kite, making minor repairs to the kites where they have suffered injuries of war. A tight knit family exchanging stories and sharing experiences. A stack of at least fifty kites lay strewn about the roof waiting for their turn to harness the wind and ride it like a rodeo star. I bonded with relatives, learned how to fly a kite, witnessed many a battle and came out with an truly amazing first experience of Basant that I will remember and babble on to many a child for many moons to come.

As the kids are saying these days... "Go fly a kite!" ;)

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