Joy Of Freedom
The independence day of my country has been a lazy slow moving lump of time as far as I can remember. A day pocked with tacky posters of our leaders, who smile and congratulate me on my freedom from a rule and rulers of which I have had no experience . So I don’t recollect when was it that I paid attention to any comparisons, rhetoric and eulogies of the many freedom fighters which colour the canvas of our nation on this day. Oh! yes, I had to look closely at Chandrashekhar Azad’s mustache since my son was going to school masquerading as him on the 14th and my job was to draw on his face with my wife’s kohl pencil. My research on Azad’s outgrowth led me to Wikipedia and was surprised to know that Pundit Moti lal Nehru funded his activities regularly. Beyond this interesting crumb of information a predictable interaction with the day was in the offing. But at the back of my mind was a possible experience of kite flying at the Jama Masjid area of Old Delhi and fulfill the ruse to take my new 35mm lens for a test drive. It turned out to be a wrong choice of a lens on a great day.
As I turned right from the Red Fort parking towards Chandni Chowk, I could barely see any kite in a sky lit from sunlight spreading dazzlingly from the west. It was four pm and despite a huge mass of cloud hanging ominously in that direction, shafts of bright light had broken through spaces unguarded by that grey sentinel. Maybe my hopes were high and hence disappointed, I limped towards the new parking lot.
Walking towards Jama Masjid lifted my spirits. Even though I was at a fair distance, I could see hundreds of little patches whizzing about in the sky. From here, facing north, the sky was water blue. Light was illuminating tufts of moisture rolling high up in the atmosphere in bright gold, while its plinth was deep cobalt. And in between was a world alive with a myriad of colours, many painted in our tricolour. I ventured for a vantage point quickly and found a co-operative fireman who let me go to the roof of his fire station after warning me to keep away from monkeys. The roof was good but still too far from action and soon I found myself at the roof of the Meena Bazaar machine tool market. Amidst lambs and their droppings, I took some pictures of boys brandishing the brashness of youth in their language and energy. One, trendily bespectacled boy, struggled to get his kite up in the air. He reminded me of my own effort to hoist one, in the morning. A few feet from the ground it had rotated on the axis of its tether vigorously and plunged to ground immediately; breaking all its bones and leaving us disconsolate. His did not commit suicide like mine, but refused to take flight nevertheless.
Action was still afar. It was transpiring from the roof tops of the butchers and the dhabas lining the road. I had to get on top somehow. A few polite inquiries led me to Imran Bhai. A cold drink shop owner in one of the narrow arteries flowing towards the body of Muslim neighborhood of old Delhi. He summoned Irfan and instructed him to take me to Osama. Four flights of shoulder width rectangular dark tunnels later, I emerged to a sight I will always cherish for the rest of my life. It was a roof little larger than my bathroom and a substantial part of it was assigned to the welfare of pet pigeons while the rest was being put to good use by Osama, a boy of about ten who was flying his kite.
Facing west, on my right was the Jama Masjid and on my left, was sprawling Lego land of history which had adapted to present time in its unique fashion. All its roofs were occupied by people flying kites.
Soon we were joined by others, who brought tea, cold drinks, a music system and more kites. Ours was perhaps the highest roof top, so I could see a layer of flying paper at the horizon.
It was a party which was beyond my expectation. Air was buzzing with celebration, Punjabi songs blared from the music system and animated conversations on the skill of flying traveled amidst kite flyers. In no time the little roof was hosting four flyers, their thread reels and a bigger pile of kites.
Azaan reverberated in space, but no one paused. They were transfixed on the motions of their marionettes traversing the sky. A little later, from a roof top , a Bhangra drum exploded in action. Boys on our roof responded with a shake of their chest and a roar. This was a 15th August like no other I had experienced.
This gentleman got bored of pulling strings and took to fishing. He had plucked quite a few at the time when I was there.
There are very few kite makers in Old Delhi. Most kites come from Barielly. So does the thread. Chinese thread is banned but is easily available . It is strong, so when it hangs from electric wires, becomes dangerous for birds and men alike. Indian thread is still laced with ground glass, but is made of cotton. People come to fly kites in Old Delhi from a lot of places including Moradabad, Allahabad and Benares. It is no competition on the 15th, though the endeavor is to cut each others kites. There are a few experts in the sport. One of them is Rafiq Bhai, who doesn’t fly anymore, but sells kites in the area. I couldn’t meet him this time but I’m sure will have a lot of interesting stories to tell.
As the evening descended, the environment rippled deeper with festivities. Women joined the men on the rooftop. Resplendent in gold and party wear they added colour to the atmosphere.
Later at dusk, fireworks began. Apparently there is a competition between the Hindu and Muslim communities on this day. I had to leave before I could see this part of the independence day celebrations. Next year I’m not going to miss it.
I was told that 15th of August is the major kite flying day of Old Delhi. So it must surely be independence day thing. How this tradition came into being, I have no idea.I don’t know how much those boys cared for the independence day. I don’t, but I don’t have so much fun either. At least, the people of Old Delhi are having a great time.