“This year was really special for me as I came to my mother’s house to celebrate Uttarayan after 5 long years. I also got my young daughter and she loved flying kites here – a special event for the entire family!”
Shweta grew up in Ahmedabad but moved to Baroda after marriage. Full of life and energy, she told me tales about flying kites as a kid in the lanes and roofs of Ahmedabad.
So does she still fly kites? “Of course, I do. But someone needs to get it in the air first for me. I am very good with kite fights though”, she told me happily. Her mother, Jayashree Ben, was more of an expert, though this year she focused on making everyone’s favourite food and had no time to fly kites. Next year? “Of course”, she said.
It was the day after Uttarayan in Ahmedabad, and I was on the roads capturing everyone’s special memories and happy stories from this year’s festival. I quickly learnt that food was central to celebrations and it was always the womenfolk who took lead in that. Pushpa Ben and Neeru Ben explained to me how food items like Undhiyu are made only for these few days in the entire year in each household.
Til Ladu and chikki were the special sweet counterparts of the savoury Undhiyu and got a bagful of them to take back home.
Since I had heard so much about Undhiyu, I wanted to know more about it and went to one of the oldest shops in the city which has been making it for almost 100 years now – Das Khaman.
Bhavin Thakkar, the youngest in the fourth generation of owners, candidly told me that Uttarayan is such an important family festival that they make as much Undhiyu that can survive till afternoon so that they can then go back home and fly kites. After eating together in the kitchen I bought some for my family back home in Pune and bid him good bye.
The third most important food for uttarayan is fafda-jalebi – the salty-sweet combination which is everyone’s favourite while flying kites.
As this is usually not made at homes, I decided to explore the Kalupur Swaminarayan temple lane to try some of it out.
Quite interestingly, though all the cooks spoke fluent Gujarati, they all originally came from Uttar Pradesh. One of them beautifully summed up the festival: “I may not be from Gujarat, but this festival is mine as well. We work through the night to prepare for these days but then we make the city happier as well. That is enough for us.”
Before I could call my food exploration over, I had to eat some sugarcane, another essential part of the festival. The hub for buying pieces of sugarcane is Manek Chowk where I met Salim and Ishaq Bhai, who have been in this business for generations.
Salim was beaming after two days of excellent business.
“I sold 60 tonens of sugarcane in just three days – isn’t that amazing? We are open though the year, but for seven days around Uttarayan we work 24×7.”
At this time, an old woman got curious about Uttarayan stories and came forward to share her own: “When I was young, I flew kites all the time. Now it’s time for my grandchildren to play – my bones will break if I run around like them!”
Though the festival was officially over, I could still hear small kids shouting on the rooftops and fighting over kites. I decided to climb up to one of the terraces and chatted up with Karishma, Damini and Nishith.
It was really interesting that for them food was secondary: “The one song played on all rooftops this year was ‘DJ wale babu mera gana baja do’ and we all danced to it!” They offered to teach me how to fly the kites but had little time so bid them goodbye and walked around the lanes of Old Ahmedabad – starting from Khadiya and ending at Teen Darwaza.
Perhaps the most uplifting Uttarayan story came from Jaideep Mehta and his wife Ruchi who have a very unique philosophy about the festival.
“Uttarayan is a community festival and so we have an open house during these two days. Anyone can come home, share our meals, fly kites on the roof and be a part of our family. We get both Indians and foreigners in large numbers – this year we hosted close to 300 visitors and this is what made Uttarayan so special for us.”
The sun was coming down when I decided to explore the biggest kite market of Ahmedabad at Jamalpur. The streets which must have bustled with so much activity just yesterday, were more relaxed now and I was welcomed into many shops. Each shopkeeper had an interesting story to share.
Hashim Bhai told me about the new innovations in design –
“Every year we do something new. This year kites for kids were big – these are made with plastic and printed with cartoon characters. Kids just love Chhota Bheem, Superman and Doraemon and we sell them in large number.”
His twenty years old son Intaqab told me,
“Lots of kite designs are also inspired from the popular movies – both Gujarati and Bollywood. This year our highest selling kites featured ‘Chello Divas’ and ‘Bahubali'”
Unlike the father-son duo, Farooq makes miniature kites which are often bought as collectibles or for small kids. He has seen the demand soar in the past few years and he has little interest to move into big kites even for next year.
However, my most interesting conversation was with Mrs. Naeem, who told me that it was actually then womenfolk who did the most work for making kites, but remain invisible.
“In the months preceding Uttarayan, we work 12-14 hours every day at our homes getting kites ready on time. It’s a great collaborative effort and we also make a good earning from it.”
My day ended with this uplifting conversations and I made a promise to myself to come again and see the kites in the making. It’s a story largely unknown and would be an intense learning experience for me. Maybe, next year I will fly a kite that I made myself.
Smiles of India – on ground initiative: we have collaborated with a travel blogger Siddhartha Joshi, who is also an ace photographer. He would be travelling to more than 10 cities across India in a two-month-long campaign capturing unique and interesting stories that bring about smile, happiness and positivity with a theme centered around ‘Celebrating Life’.