There are kites, and there is kite flying and then there is the Uttarayan festival in Ahmedabad. 14th January is celebrated by Hindus across the country as Makar Sankranti. Gujaratis call this Uttarayan; this is the day when the Sun starts its travel towards north in celestial sphere. In Gujarat Uttarayan is marked by day-long kite flying by millions of people there.
As I drove from the airport to the city on 12th January, enough posters and signages were visible along the way talking about the just concluded International Kite Festival. This attracts hundreds of kite flying enthusiasts from all over the globe flying kites of different shapes and sizes. Since I had missed watching this competition, I was determined to make the most of the opportunity I had as my trip to Ahmedabad coincided with Uttarayan.
And the first step was a visit to a prominent kite market, Raipur, the evening before the D-Day to window-shop for kites.
Raipur Kite Market:
This narrow road, barely half-a-km long, was choc-a-bloc at 5 in the evening. And we were told that we had not seen anything yet, the bulk of the business happens after 9pm and all the way to 2 am!
Hundreds and hundreds of shops selling kites, phirki and manjha. And lots and lots of accessories. More about these, later. First, the kites.
Raipur that day was THE supermarket for kites. Millions and millions of them in all colours, shapes and sizes. I was told that an average family would buy upto 100 kites for this day! Assuming 5 lakh families fly kites on Uttarayan – I am making a very rough estimate here – the “consumption” of kites would be something like 5 crore kites in one single day! Maybe I have made insanely erroneous estimates, but one stroll down the Raipur market street is enough to convince you that this city LOVES kite-flying!
Kites in the regular diamond shape in a multitude of colours. And in multiple sizes. And multiple shapes as well, including a round kite, a kite-shaped kite, and other assorted shapes.
If you are a film buff, shop for “Singh is Kingg”, or Salman or Shahrukh or the large tall Rani Mukherjee kite.
And choose from a large range of phirkis. Hanging in clusters from shop fronts. All made of plastic. I wonder what happened to the wooden ones which we used as kids.
In the bylanes one could see the manjha-wallahs furiously at work giving kilometers and kilometers of thread their murderous edge.
For those who do not know, manjha is cotton thread used for flying the kites. The thread is coated with glass powder with the help of glue and the glass is what gives the thread the sharpness to “cut” other kites. A good quality manjha will make the difference between two dueling kites in the air (besides, of course, the skill of the kite flyer). For good measure, the manjha mixture is tinted pink to give the thread its sinister, or festive look. Depends how you look at it!
Occasionally manjha not only cuts kites but also injures birds. The manjha freely falling kite which has been cut is known to slit throats of unsuspecting cyclists on the ground.
The manjha application is a fascinating process and surprisingly quick. I could figure out two broad methods of manjha coating, thread moving and manjha applicator stationery and manjha artist moving and the thread stationery. I am no expert in manjha matters, so I have no idea which process is better.
The accessories collection add colour to the market place. What accessories, you say, once you have bought the kite and the phirki and the manjha. Those are only the basics. What about finger-gloves to protect your fingers from your own manjha? And caps and goggles to protect you in the sun? And binoculars to keep a track of the goings-on in the sky? Sun burn lotions, adhesive plasters for protection and even an assortment of masks to add to the festive spirit, the possibilities are many!
As I was returning from the Raipur market that evening I was wondering what the atmosphere would be like on the D-Day! I was not disappointed, to say the least. But that is the stuff for another post….
But not all were kite-flying….
Gujaratis, being what they are, were also doing serious business on the side. Uttarayan is the time when the Gujarat government organizes the “Vibrant Gujarat” symposium which attracts leading industrialist and investors from across the globe. The Ambanis, the Tatas, the Mittals; you name them and they were all there! Making huge investment commitments to the state.
Here is the front page of Time of India, Ahmedabad edition that morning.