Saturday, June 9, 2007

Sankrant in Nagpur

According to me there are two festivals that are celebrated uniquely in Nagpur. Sankrant and Holi. Although both are possibly celebrated all over the country, in Nagpur these two take an altogether different meaning.
Well may be not anymore, but it used to, not too long ago.

Sankrant was special for me. I was passionate about kites. So much so, that if i ever rebelled against my father in my entire life, that was once in my very early teens, and that too for Kites.
Yes kites.

It so happened that we had moved into this new building just a year ago and our building secretary was a real jerk. An old guy in his early 70s who had the keys and control to the building terrace or gachchi as it's called in Nagpur. And that Sankrant day in 1987, this jerk was being real cranky. He refused to let us on to the terrace. We, young kids got restless and made some noise and complained to our parents. To my dismay my father instead of supporting us, sided with him. This was too much to take for me. I remember that was the first time in my entire life till that point that i actually answered back to my Dad. Such was the passion i had for kites.

My obsession for kites was so overwhelming, i actually crossed the line that day. And if you have been a kid in Nagpur during the 80s, you would know i was not the only one so passionately in love with kites.

During the kite season, which had a one-two month build up period from say November, till passions reached its zenith on the D-Day, the 14th of Jan, the day Sankrant was celebrated, we were totally mesmerized by Kites.
Each neighborhood had these local heroes, who were like the real Kings of the kite flying domain. They almost reached celebrity status during this time of the year. Nobody would challenge them, as in no one would take a "pecha" with them. Pecha is a term used for a kite contest where one fella tries to "cut" the challengers Kite. It's one helluva on-air battle.

During the kite season we would get the most tan per square cm of our skin. The reason being we would invariably be on the terrace of our building on every weekend in scorching sun flying kites, ALL Day.

There were a few popular kite stores that had become famous during my time. Ramu patang store in Giripeth was one of them. This simple immigrant from UP [probably], Ramu had become quite a stud. He was doing roaring business during the kite season. He had almost acquired a brand loyalty. So much so that basking under his glorious brand his neighbour actually opened a parallel competition called Shamu patang store. Ramu and Shamu both did great business during the season.

The Sankrant day was no ordinary day for us in Nagpur. It was the day when guys/men of all ages would come on the terrace very prepared. Each had a territory fixed for years. It was lame and a non-guy thing to be sitting at home without friends on the day of Sankrant. Even if you had no interest in flying kites it was the moral duty of every male kid to be on terrace and if not fly atleast support his more skillful friend in shouting the competition down.

O Par, was the war cry for every victory achieved on the on-air kite battle. If you happen to beat an expert the cry would be much louder. We would actually keep a count of how many competitors kites we were able to dislodge and how many of our boys we lost. At the end of the day if your balance was in the positive, you had a great day.
Surprisingly nobody would ever concede that they lost more kites than they won. This was defying the logic of sum of the total kites available in the Air.

Nevertheless there was so much obsession and passion involved for kites we actually would have fist fights over a 50 paise Kite. The stealing of manja [or the sharp thread] that is used for flying was another issue people would get worked up with.

But we all survived those moments. We were happy to be a part of the great kite flying community. We all had our own territory to guard. We always had plans made for the final day. Some of us prepared the manja till late in the night on 13th Jan, one day before Sankrant and most of us had the stocks full of kites for the final day.

Nagpur came up with unique terms for kite fliers. If you were a regular kite flier those terms were pretty much a part of your lingo for the rest of the season.

Girgot, laggi, kanna etc. Even different kites had different names. There was the macho Khada Sabbal Muchcha Khada, then bhang dar and then bhangdar tokdor. Funny names like haddi muddi or dabbedar were pretty common.
You would have no idea what i just talked about if you were not a part of that kite flying community. But even if you remotely were, then these names wouldn't be alien to you.

Even the manja had two popular ways of making them. There was the luddhee way and then there was the professional seerus way. Even the saddhhi or the original white thread that ultimately gets converted into the deadly manja had various names.

So while the guys flew their kites the girls and their mothers would be busy on the day of Sankrant with what is called as Haldi Kumkum - a marashtrian ritual where the women folk of the household go to each others houses and do something. That something, I never knew what it was, as i was always on the terrace during that time. But i knew that was a ritual religiously followed at my home for years.

The fathers would usually stay away from house during that time. The guy kids would be on terrace and sisters would be with mothers helping them with haldi kumkum.

Sankrant is possibly the only festival where fathers were "left out" of the action. Some enthusiastic fathers though would join their sons on the terrace. But not many i can tell.

On 14th of January every year, the skies of Nagpur had a decorated look. The makeover from silent sky to a sky full of colors of different shades of Kites, some small some not so tiny was phenomenal. It was like the Gods had decided to add color to the vast open canvas of Nagpur sky. The air would be filled with the clarion sounds of O par every second of the day. Some kid would be trying to catch a kite from dying with his laggi while still another kid would be hiding under the parapet wall of his building trying to steal as much manja as possible from his neighbors lost challenge. Everyone wanted a pound of the kill.
Their would be fights between neighbors over people entering their region. There would be heartbreaks and great victories at the same time. Ego clashed in the Air at every street corner and every moment of that day. The honour was taken after every victory and every fight lost was a moment of great depression.

I actually felt sad when Sankrant would end. It was like the summer holidays getting over or the cricket world cup coming to an end. The fear of the ensuing vacuum post-Sankrant was not very pleasing.

Some of us would keep flying kites even post Sankrant. Some would fly the tri-color kite on the 26th of jan. I am sure not out of any patriotic feeling but just the final passing tribute the season ending. Slowly though the passions would recede and rationality would take over. For those 2 months of kite flying season everything felt different in Nagpur.

In recent years Nagpur has seen the popularity of Kites drop to abysmal levels. The next generation of kids did not probably take over the passion or the skill with equal zeal. Somehow the kite lost its pristine position from every guys sense. I am not even sure if Ramu still sells his kites or Shamu still bothers to compete with him in their great corporate fight over trying to monopolize the Nagpur terraces. May be kites are a thing of past.

As Nagpur advances forward into the new phase of development and becomes more and more commercial, it probably has to let go those glorious festivities that defined it in some sense. As Nagpur finds new avenues of growth the old has to go. May be its not bad as it sounds, but i for sure am going to miss those Muchcha Khaddas and Bhangdars for all the 14th Jans that i ever live to see.

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