When one pictures Independence Day, we hear the echo of the Prime Minister’s speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort, we imagine Rashtrapati Bhavan and India Gate in Lutyens’ Delhi, all lit up in green, white, saffron, and of course flags hoisted on the roof of houses and kites flying above it.
Flying kites to send back Simon
In 1927 to boycott the Simon Commission, people protested by flying kites with “Go back Simon” scribbled all over it. Thousands of colored kites fluttered in the breeze. It was symbolic of the spirit of freedom. A kite soars high, free and ready to touch the sky. India wanted to break free from the clutches of the British and eventually it did. Since then flying kites has become an integral part of Independence Day celebrations.
A trip to Lal Kuan Market
Old Delhi is segregated into different markets specializing in a specific category. Nai Sarak is famous for books, best wedding cards can be ordered at Chawri Bazaar, for bridal wear and wedding sarees it is Chandni Chowk. For kites, people flock to the bylanes of Chawri Bazaar to an area called Lal Kuan, not far from the metro station. Since it is a national holiday barring the ones selling kites, all the other shops were closed.
Bright colored ‘patangs’ made of cellophane and kite paper hung from the shops. A few stacks lay neatly arranged for the customers to look through. There were kites with social messages like “Beti bachao, beti padao”, Bollywood actors, cartoon characters, Vande Mataram etc. “Which kite is the most popular?” I asked Asif in Haji Kallu Bhai Patang Wale, a shop that is famous for its kites. “The one which has our Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.” he smiled and answered. True to his word, I could see customers picking up dozens with our respected Prime Minister’s face on them.
Indian flags fluttered on the rooftops of many buildings. There was positivity and a spirit of brethren everywhere. People of all religions were laughing, teasing, hugging each other. Vendors were making roaring sales selling trinkets, headbands, wristbands, wigs, caps, pencils, bangles all in saffron, white and green. The air of festivity pervaded all over. Most of us who stay cooped up at home don’t know the fun that Independence Day entails.
The prices of the kites range between Rs 10 to Rs 1000 for the fanciest ones. The Chinese threads that led to fatalities last year have disappeared from the market, thankfully. There has been strict vigilance by the police and some makeshift shops that mushroom up before Independence Day have been removed. I happily bought my manjha (thread for flying kites) for Rs 500 and a bunch of different colored kites for Rs 300. The basics of kite flying were in hand, but I had no idea who was going to teach me how to fly these beauties in a strange neighborhood.
Let’s fly a kite
The lost look on my face must be evident because an elderly gentleman came forward and told me to take the flight of stairs to reach a terrace where many children were flying kites. A bit apprehensive, I looked up to see happy heads smiling and beckoning me to come up. Climbing four storeys high, I reached a terrace where I was welcomed by Mohammed Asif, the head of the family. A couple of his children were involved in some serious kite flying competition. It didn’t take long before Mohammed started teaching the nuances of kite flying; how to tie the thread to the kite, to study the direction of the wind, how to circle it around another kite so that it gets locked and finally to give it a jerk to snap the competitors’ kite. Trying hard and failing miserably, I decided to sit and chat with the others. It was beautiful to hear their family stories of Benares and get acquainted with the family members. We laughed, clicked pictures and talked about the Independence Day. Before leaving he gifted me a wristband in the colors of our flag as a token of friendship.
The final stopover – Shyam sweets
Shyam Sweets is an iconic shop in Chawri Bazaar and for me, going to this Bazaar is incomplete without going there. Thankfully, it was open today. A hearty lunch of Bedmi – Poori, Aloo, Lassi and Kesari Ghevar completed the experience
A parting thought
As I traveled back home, my thoughts went back to the stellar experience I had today. Amidst strangers, I hadn’t felt like one. I was a part of Mohammed’s family. They had lovingly welcomed me to their house. Whether a Hindu or a Muslim, our religions didn’t matter. We talked about our country as One. India belongs to both of us. Isn’t that what Independence is also about? Freedom from negative thinking that divides us because of our religions. Today was the best way to celebrate Independence Day.