Uttarayan is a festival to celebrate the change in wind direction and the beginning of spring. We fly kites in that celebration for 2 days. January 14th is an official holiday when everyone gets involved in flying kites. Jan 15th is not unfortunately an official holiday, but people still manage to celebrate the festival.
The idea is to fly the kite and cut other people's kite. The more you can cut other people's kite without getting your kite cut shows how skilled you are. The string is also of special kind. There is bits of glass coated on the string. You have to be skilled enough to cut kites without getting your fingers cut. It really does take some serious skills to be good at it. The only festival in India, I think, that requires that much skill. It is fun nonetheless. The only thing that can spoil the fun is the lack of wind. Everyone keeps their fingers crossed for good wind. We had ours crossed!
Kids start flying kites days before Uttarayan. Some start practicing their skills and make sure they ready for the big day. Women generally aren't that interested in this festival. They do however play a very crucial role of holding the "firki" (a wooden spool with handles). The truly skilled brag about not needing any assistance in flying a kite. There is also special food for the festival. "Udhyu" is made up of 14 different vegetables and takes a very long time to prepare. It is most eaten with "Jalebi". Jalebi is a round circular thing made up of dough that is deep fried in clarified butter, then dipped in sugar syrup. It is fricken good and the combo of Udhyu and Jalebi is amazing. The foodies always look forward to it and that includes me.
The day before Uttarayan, I thought it would be a good idea to go to the terrace and test my skills. Afterall, it had been about 5 years since I've flown a kite. I wasn't too sure of my skills. To my surprise, on my first kite, I cut 10 kites. I think it was one of my best scores. I was hopeful about the next day.
After dinner, my dad, Gin, Devarshi (our neighbor) and I went to buy kite. The best deals you get on kites is in the old city, but my dad didn't want to go that far (far is a very relative term in Ahmedabad, anything past 3 miles is considered too far). So we went close to our house to buy the kites.
Buying kites also require skills. First, your ability to tell how good the kite is: from the paper they've used to the weight and size of the kite. Second, how good you're at bargaining (pretty much required in India for buying anything). We were hopeful that we did a good job at buying the kites. My dad got in an agrument with the guy selling the kite because he didn't want us to check the kites. Everyone knows to check the kites because they sell the kites in bungles of 5 to 10. The sellers put the best kites in the front and the back and in the middle they stick in the damaged kites. So everyone knows to check the kites very well. The seller had to back down and apologize because he was in the wrong. Anyhow, we got our supplies and headed back for home.
It wasn't time to call it a night yet because buying the kites isn't the only thing required. You need to tie the strings to the kites which is a task that requires hours. It also involves multiple people otherwise it would take days to get the job done. The process is too complicated to explain. But the more people there are to help, the better it is. So my dad, my mom, Gin & I got to the task. It took us an hour and half to get half the kites ready for the next day (about 50). It was already late and we wanted to make sure we wake up early in the morning and catch good wind. Generally, mornings are the best time to fly the kite and then late afternoons.
Around 6am I could hear people on their terrace blasting loud music with their boom box. We all got up around 7am and by 8am we were on our terrace ready for some kite action. My first kite didn't last for too long and my lucky streak from yesterday was over. It didn't matter because I wanted Gin to see and enjoy the thousands of kites flying in the sky. It's an amazing site to see thousands of people on their roofs flying kites screaming and yelling every time they cut someone else's kite.
I tried teaching Gin how to fly the kite, but it was too difficult for her to do it. Instead, she chose to takeover the kite that I had gotten up. Everytime the kite took a nose dive, Gin would yell for help and I'd have to takeover the kite again. Few times it was too late for the kite and it would get stuck on someone's roof or in the nearby tree. So unless the kite was very stable, Gin decided not to takeover it.
Alan and Xavi's train was delayed and they arrived around 11am. It's not the best time to fly the kite because it gets very hot and the wind starts dying down. Anyways, since they specially came over for Uttarayan, we flew the kite for a few more hours. The only problem was that they had never flown a kite before. I showed them the basics, but with low wind, it was very difficult for them to get the kite in the air. We decided to take a break and go for lunch.
My dad had gotten the food specially from a place about 100 miles away. It was darn good. There was no Jalebi, but the Udhyu made up for the lack of the sweet dish. Instead, we had Puri (puffed deep fried flat bread) with Udhyu which was a good substitute for Jalebi. Now with our bellies stuffed, we were too lazy to go to the terrace and do the work of flying the kite. Instead, we decided to hangout and my parents took some rest.
When the sun wasn't so bad, we went back to the terrace. This time around with the wind in our favor, Xavi was able to fly the kite. He was very happy about it. Getting the kite up in the air is the easiest part of flying the kite. Keep the kite in the air and not getting it cut by someone is where skills come in. I tried explaining to Xavi how you have to feel the string when someone comes to cut your kite. It's like someone is pulling the string away from you or sometimes like a jittery feeling to the string. Needless to say it was difficult to explain, it would just require practice and a lot of patience. In the end Xavi had good luck with cutting other people's kite. His personal best was cutting 3 kites before his was gone. Soon Alan and Xavi paired up and were having a great time trying to fly the kites.
After dinner, we were going to fly some lanterns in the sky. Yup, Lucy in the sky with lanterns. Instead, of Lucy it's kites that take the lanterns in the sky. Basically, you put a little candle in a paper lantern and attach the lantern to the string of the kite. Up, up and away it goes the lantern in the sky with the kite. It looks really nice in the sky and a little spooky because you can only see the lanterns but not the kite. About 6 paper lanterns are attached to a kite. Since there are people simply waiting to cut the kite with lanterns, you need windmen. One on either side of the kite that's treated like airforce one plane with wingmen. The wingmen's job is to make sure they take care of any kites that want to cut our lanterned kite. Now having explained all this, we actually never flew the kite with lantern because there was no wind. We decided to try again the following night.
The next day we woke up early and had a great morning. Again we rested in the afternoon and headed back up for more kite action. Unfortunately, the wind had totally died out. We decided to go to my dad's friend's apartment because their building is a lot higher. It didn't help. Alan couldn't go with us because he was sick. But Xavi went with us. We also had dinner at their house and Xavi found his favorite food there, Bataka Pauva (potato flakes with boliled potatoes, onions, green chillies, coriender, etc.).
Upon returning from my uncle's place, we regreted not trying to fly the lanterns the night before. At least the night before Gin saw some of the flying lanterns and she had better understanding of what we were talking about.