The week before, the whole city’s buzzing: buzzing with excitement, thrill; an unseen electricity coursing through every person on the street, making him jitter as though he couldn’t wait for this week to be over. Bright, colourful papers are practically strewn across the city, changing hands amidst eager smiles. Strings of deep purple and yellow and blue are strung on little machines, getting ready for the big day.
It’s said, with great pride, that India is the country of festivals. Big cities celebrate with elaborate grandeur, the colours and the happiness and the smiles all hiked up a notch. But let me tell you, in all humility, that no city in India celebrates Uttarayan as gorgeously as Vadodara, my hometown. Uttarayan, or Makar Sankranti (as called in other states) is a festival Gujarat knows at the festival of kites, and even though the bigger cities of Gujarat celebrate it more widely and with greater festivities, I can bet every one of my last cent it is nowhere near as beautiful or brilliant as in the small city of Vadodara. To the people of Vadodara, Uttarayan is not another festival or another reason to play loud music and eat delicious treats. To us, it’s like coming home from a year long exile. The plain simple act of preparing kites, setting up camp on our terraces, gathering with friends is less a part of a generic festival and more like a family reunion: reunion not only with our loved ones, but with our old loved friend- the kite. In the week leading up the fourteenth of January, the whole city unites in a consensus stating that every conversation must include little snippets of the upcoming festivity. Every day passed in one day closer to the Uttarayan, and Vadodara knows it well. Why, have you ever roamed the tiny little streets of Vadodara on the morning of Uttarayan? Before the feeble winter rays of the sun even crawl up to the horizon, men are up, stringing their kites, sipping on their teas; women are rushing about preparing for a big, hearty lunch; children are jittery, wrapping their fingers in tape to avoid getting cut by the string of the kite. Young boys, draped in tattered clothes, hair matted with grease, roam the streets with long, pointed wrought iron sticks, hoping to catch stray kites and sell them by the road. It is as if the minute the sun declares its reign on the day, a collective cloud of competitiveness mixed with thrill and joy settles upon the city.
The city smiles as a kite catches the wind and rises; the city laughs as it battles against another; the city screams and yells as it wins; the city sighs and chuckles as it loses. When the sun is too harsh, most of us head down for a grand lunch that usually boasts of undhiyu, and then once again, after a brief lull, Vadodara returns in full force. The evenings are the most beautiful. People release bright, sparkling lanterns into the vast sky. The lanterns flow like the river, in a perfect harmony. If in the morning Vadodara was a wild, excited lion: roaring and leaping at it’s prey, in the evening, Vadodara is an elegant lady, draped in a saree the colour of dusk, dotted with lights, the pallu flowing, flowing, flowing.
Thank you for the lovely entries. Read the selected ones here. Stay tuned for more contests and writing prompts.