Joy Of Freedom
The independence day of my country has been a slow moving lump of time for me, for as long as I care to remember. But every year, I don’t fail to notice tacky posters of our leaders, congratulating me on my freedom from a rule and rulers I only know of from books, movies and the great architecture that they have left behind. On the other hand, I have suffered many a squabble about who was our greatest freedom fighter, finding most of the experts huffing about this should’ve been, or that should’ve happened. To them I say; of course! The nation is waiting for you to change it, so go ahead and use your freedom instead of fighting with your husband or your wife, or posting selfies on Facebook.
One fine 14th August morning, I was told to draw a moustache on my five year old son, as he was going to school dressed as Chandrasekhar Azad. My research on Azad’s outcrop led me to Wikipedia and I was surprised to learn that Pundit Moti lal Nehru funded his activities regularly. That silly amateurish squiggle of kohl on the upper lip was worth this interesting piece of trivia. However, more important things occupied my mind. I was eager to take my newly acquired 35mm lens for a test drive and have an experience of kite flying at the Jama Masjid area of Old Delhi.
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 a kite in the sky. It was past four pm in the afternoon and a huge mass of cloud hung ominously in the west, but there were no little squabs of bright colour floating in its foreground. So I limped towards the new parking lot in disappointment, thinking that in these changing times I should not keep my hopes high.
However, nearing Jama Masjid lifted my spirits. The sky was water blue in the north, and the hidden sun miraculously lit tufts of moisture rolling high up in the atmosphere in bright gold. And in between was a world alive with a myriad of colours whizzing about, many in our tricolour. I sought a vantage point, finding a co-operative fireman who let me go to the roof of his station after warning me to keep away from the monkeys. The sight was good, but still too far for my lens to capture properly. Soon, I was at the roof of the Meena Bazaar machine tool market, in the company of disinterested lambs and their droppings, happily taking pictures of boys brandishing the brashness of youth in their language and energy. A 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, leaving us disconsolate. The boy’s kite did not commit suicide like mine, but refused to take flight nevertheless.
Action was still afar. It was happening 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 inside the 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 that will remain with me for the rest of my life. It was a roof little larger than my bathroom, being put to good use by Osama, a boy of about ten, flying his kite.
Facing west, on my right was the Jama Masjid and on my left was a sprawling Lego-land of history, adapted to the present in its unique fashion. All its roofs were occupied by people flying kites.
Soon we were joined by others. They brought tea, cold drinks, a music system and more kites. Ours was perhaps the highest rooftop, so I could see a layer of flying paper on the horizon.
It was a party which was beyond my expectations; the world buzzed with celebration, Punjabi songs blared from the music systems and animated conversations on the skill of flying, filled the placid breeze. In no time the little roof was hosting four flyers and their thread reels–and a bigger pile of kites.
Azaan called the devout, but no one paused. They were transfixed on the motions of their marionettes dancing above. A little later, from an indistinguishable 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 ever 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 hardly any kite makers left 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 from a lot of places; from Moradabad, Allahabad and Benares. It is no competition on the 15th, though the endeavour remains the same, bringing the other’s kite down. People do talk about a few champions of 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 he’ll have a lot of interesting stories to tell when I do get to chat with him eventually.
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 a different colour to the atmosphere.
Later, nearing dusk, fireworks began. Apparently it is a competition between the Hindu and Muslim communities that happens on the independence day. Unfortunately, I had to leave before I could see this celebration. 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 an independence day thing. How this tradition came into being, is for you to guess. Whether those boys cared for the independence day, I can’t say. I don’t, but I don’t have so much fun either.