Come Lohri and the dusty, noisy lanes of the old city burst into an activity quite unlike the regular days. The chaotic calls by the roadside vendors touting their wares and the creaking vehicles plying the narrow streets take a day’s rest, and a boisterous indulgence in kite flying takes its place.
Denizens, young and old, flock to rooftops and partake in this annual rite of winter season. Most begin as early as 6 am and go on till light supports. As the day picks up, the sky is seen dotted with these colourful tissue-paper jewels, in bright pinks, yellows or green, striped or polka-dotted, some even flashing images of Bollywood stars. Sensitive to the lightest of tugs of the master’s fingers, the kites seem dancing to the tunes of loud Punjabi music blared from giant speakers on the rooftops. On the streets, kids clamber to hold the vanquished kites. In the days to come, those that do not make it to ground can be seen limply hung on trees and wires.
Interestingly, the sport goes beyond an idle pastime on a sunny winter afternoon, for it’s a battle of sorts. A kite high up in the air beginning from one’s roof is an unsaid unchallenge thrown to the neighbour. And the neighbour obliges, as can be seen from the army of kite aficionados present on almost every rooftop in the area, some handling the taut strings and some holding the spool, trying to outdo one another.
Fingers wrapped with duct tape to protect from the sharp, glass-powder coated strings, and tapes to fix the torn ends of a kite at the ready, people tug at the strings and maneuver their flying machines in a bid to mow down the opponent’s kite. The sudden hoots and cheers from a direction hint at victory.
The preparation begins weeks before the festival. The markets in Daresi, Field Gunj, and even the posh areas such as Ghumar Mandi and BRS Nagar begin hoarding kites and strings at least a month in advance. Laddu Patang Wala, Iqbal Ganj, a 50-year-old venture and of the few shops who sell kites all year round. The owner Bhim Chand, who runs three branches of the shop in close vicinity, informs that his kites come from Amritsar, Kolkata, Rampura and other places, available from Rs 2 for a small, simple, diamond-shaped kite to Rs 200 for a fancy and huge (a little less than six feet) one. People in the city are so passionate about kite-flying that they shell out even Rs 2000-3000 on kites and strings, he shares.
However, old-timers will tell you that the kite craze, though strikingly huge for a new eye, has dwindled significantly over the years. “Around 10-20 years ago, the kites would fill every inch of the sky. They have become fewer. Also, the tradition has now reduced to the day of Lohri alone,” says Basant Lal, another kite seller in the area. “People don’t have the time now. But the hardy and the passionate still make it a point to indulge at least on this one day,” he says.
Residents also rue that the sport has become all about slicing the other person’s string, by hook or by crook. They ask for the deadly Chinese plastic strings rather than the much-safer cotton ones.
Notably, the Chinese made strings, that have come under fire often for their harmful effects on skin, costs around Rs 60-65 per 1000 metre while a superior quality cotton string comes at around Rs 150 for the same length.