How to Fake It, If You Can’t Fly It: A Cheat Sheet to Gujarat’s Uttarayan

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How to Fake It, If You Can’t Fly It: A Cheat Sheet to Gujarat’s Uttarayan

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

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elebration has so many facets, so many different practices, that it is easy to get lost sometimes. But I also think that’s the innate beauty of festivals; it has something to offer to every single person. In Ahmedabad, from where I come, there are too many festivals and colours to lose yourself to.

Yet Uttarayan binds almost all of us.

We kickstart the year with “Kai po che” being yelled across terraces. No one is immune to not offering their “patang kaat” nemesis from saamnewaali building a reminder that this time victory is coming home. A week before the actual festivities, the city is covered with colourful kites, hanging by electricity poles across the city.

Windy afternoons and multiple attempts to fly a kite defined my childhood. Years later, I still can’t fly one, but I have chosen to accept my fate. My relationship with Uttarayan or Makar Sankranti, is like that of a sibling. There’s a lot of cribbing, but at the end of the day, I’ve come to love it as my own. The undhiyu and fly AF sunglasses are a bonus.

The anticipation for this festival, which is more like an event in my city, is felt by the third week of December itself. You’d see little children run after kites to catch them while donning a Santa hat. Just like the merriment of Christmas organically blends in with the spirit of Sankranti, our businesses also witness a swift transition. Kiosks that are selling diyas during Diwali move on to “jingle bells” for Christmas before settling on white finger tapes and maanjha for Uttarayan.  

Since I was a child, Uttarayan heralded an excursion to our Nani’s house. With the naivete of childhood, my brother and I’d decide to go to the old city just a day prior to the D-Day and then take our own sweet time to pick out a kite, even though they more or less looked the same.

My relationship with Uttarayan, is like that of a sibling.

The following day, after Maa’s shrill wake-up call, we’d dress in whatever she thought was appropriate – choice is an illusion, especially when it’s given by your mother – and head out to seize the day. True to stereotype about Gujarati households, my extended maternal family would set the table for lunch at 12 pm. I vividly remember life coursing through my lethargic sleepy self when the smells began to waft through the house:  freshly fried puris, coriander-garnished undhiyu, mari khaman, basundi, and five other types of pakwans that I never got around to eating. The variety in our food spread is matched in equal measure by the bevy of personalities you get to meet during Uttarayan.

There are people like my mama, who will start buying kites in hundreds almost two months in advance. Such kite fanatics don’t just direct all their efforts to buy the right kite, but also to hijack everyone’s kites. “Ahiya aap, hu chagaai aapu” (Give me the kite, I’ll fly it for you) is their catchphrase and the victims are poor children like me, who never end up learning how to fly. I remember this one time, he missed lunch and evening tea, because “jordaar pawan hatu” (it was amazingly windy).

And on the other spectrum are pseudo enthusiasts who can’t fly a kite, but won’t allow their lack of talent to stop them from clicking sunkissed pictures for the ’gram. And your honour, I am guilty. Every attempt at flying a kite for me has been underscored by a cut, bleeding finger. But does that mean I don’t deserve cute pictures that I can show my kids? I think not. So after stuffing my face, doing baraat dance to the latest Bollywood earworm, complaining about dhoop (sorry, Jaadu, I swiftly move to the podium of glory when the lighting is just right). By now, the script is familiar to me: I’ll get rejected multiple times, but will finally manage to convince someone to give me their kite to pose with. Hello, fresh memories!

It is the first time in 22 years that I am not home for Uttarayan; when I am not taking in the crisp winter breeze or binge-eating my way through farsaan. The first time that I haven’t gotten into a fight with my mother because I wanted to spend Uttarayan with my friends instead. And also the first time I am not going to witness my city draped in colours or be left spellbound by the night sky full of lamp kites.

A part of me is trying to convince myself that I wasn’t a huge fan of the festival anyway. On the other hand, a part of me is filled with nostalgia and homesickness because it isn’t just a festival, but a feeling of being home. I miss belonging. Things might have changed over the years, but the ritual of going to nani’s became just this thread from my childhood I ache to tug this time. Can you hear adulting screaming “Kai po che?”

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