Ahmedabad is white and yellow under winter’s sun, melting houses banally spread beyond her sight. Yet one more sprawling city? You’ve been on the road for quite some time, you are looking for something new. You’re tired. You had a good time in Delhi with your friends. They keep reminding you so on Instagram. Your parents are texting you from Europe: are you alright? And your wife from America: when are you back again? I am not quite here. Nor am I there, yet. As the rising sun hits the limewashed roof-terrace, blind, I need to raise my head. Only then do I notice, growing slowly between city and sky, an astounding profusion of colour.
Dozens and soon hundreds and thousands of kites fly above us. Red, blue, pink… Look at that! My eyes open wide in the shade of my palm. I stand up and quickly walk along a dazzling parapet; Ahmedabad is waking up with all my senses. The whole city is running on her roofs. Children of all ages look at the sky. Their hands move swiftly in front of them, one after the other adroitly letting go and pulling back an invisible thread; together they perform a harmonious choreography. Can you see? I am already learning the steps. When it is high in the sky, you simply pull on your kite for direction. But when it sinks, unintuitively, you have to let it go; trust it, your kite will come back.
Easier said than done. It is January 15th, the Uttarayan Festival just started, and I am going to fly my first kite. A few people have joined us up here. A few travellers, mostly locals, mostly people with broad grins on their faces. They carry with them plenty of these fragile pieces of colour we can see in the air; fragile in our hands, the kites will be formidable up there. Two thin, perpendicular wood sticks, a diamond-shaped patch of purple, and a long manja thread holds everything together, holds myself to my kite: I am ready. Coated with powdered glass, the bright manja will cut my hands, and also cut my neighbor’s kite, sorry, and keep down my kite with me, in the first hour at least.
As I tediously persevere, some of my neighbors pity me and kindly offer their help. Or do they fear I could cut another of their kites? I reluctantly accept. The hardest part is the take-off. I could have tried, in vain, for one more hour. But Karthik calmly propels a dark red kite into the sky, he has it go far, far away, while Rahul holds the charak, makes sure that the thread unspools smoothly. I admire the kite flying with majesty when, suddenly, I am holding the thread in my own hands; I am dancing. Focussed on my crimson kite, I walk to my right, and run to my left, I pull on it and let it go as far as I can. I am, for a moment, Ludo in Les Cerfs-Volants, Hassan in The Kite Runner, until an aggressive, triangle-shaped blue warrior hits my champion; I now see it falling like a dead leaf. A few blocks away, I hear kids cheering loudly. They got me.
Did I sound like I would give up? I pick up a fine pink kite. I build it all by myself. Two holes in the diamond, one strategically pierced where the wood sticks meet. I turn it around, lift it up, and press it softly upon my head to give it more flexibility. I repeat meticulously each and every movement I have observed: I have been taught a lot within a few hours. Yes, I have been playing for hours. The sky blushes and reflects itself on the city. At last, I am here, in one piece in one place. I belong to the city as I forget about the rest. You can escape, and then travel for good. My pink kite won’t last long, but I will fly it for precious minutes in the air of Ahmedabad.
The warm fragrance wanders into the softly-lit morning street. It wafts from the kitchen, through the open door and...
Narrative • North India
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