Sunday afternoon in the park

with Mona and Tim.

Mona got to knit. She only has 4 hexagons left before she is released from the prison of gift knitting.

Tim had to work. His prison of brief-writing is far worse, I feel.

So this was the instead-of-going-to-the-festival activity, and I have to say I was pretty pleased. I also have decided that the shared open space of the city is way underrated. I’ve been pining over houses in the area with private outdoor space and even went to look at some apartments in the neighborhood so we can move yet again (in the last 2 years I’ve moved 4 times — no joke…I was in school for most of that, but still…it’s no doubt some sort of disorder). In the meantime, I’ve been ignoring the fantastic resource that is Lincoln Park only 1 short block away. It’s got playgrounds, a makeshift dog run, beautiful mature trees to sit under and an open center square where people can sit (on these strange contraptions called benches, that in fact don’t always come with a pee-fresh scent) or fly kites. Today was the perfect day to fly kites and the perfect day for a wool festival, which together reminded me of the most memorable kite-flying experience I’ve ever had.

Uttarayan: the kite festival in Gujurat, India.

This a flickr group for photos of the festival.

Several years ago, after I graduated from college and worked like a dog to earn money, I traveled through India for 6 months with a couple of friends. It was one of those honest, completely for real life-changing experiences. As someone that had previously very uncomfortably resided somewhere between being Indian and American (and maybe still does), it kind of taught me I’d probably always be neither…or both — depending on who you talked to. Anyone with any interest in that subject of the Indian-American experience would be well-advised to read any of the works by Jhumpa Lahiri, the most famous of which is probably the Namesake. She has a new book out called Unaccustomed Earth (as in the new land on which the immigrant and his/her children steps is unaccustomed earth), which I have yet to read but hope to when it comes out in paperback.

One of the stops during the 6 months was to the home of one of my aunts in Baroda (now Vadodara), which is about 6 hours by train from Mumbai. We had already visited her before earlier in the trip, but one of my travel mates and I made a special trip out just for the kite festival. This was a last minute decision. As a result, we didn’t have train tickets. If I remember correctly, a Mumbai-Vadodara train was conveniently waiting on one of the tracks and the “line” (by which I mean clusterfuck of people) to get tickets was outrageous. So we got on in the hopes that we could just buy tickets on the train.

How do you say “shit for brains” in Hindi?

At first it was fine…it seemed too easy. We got seats in the chair car, where there are reserved seats, unlike the 2nd or 3rd class cars where people pack in so tight it defies laws of physics. The conductor even came around and kind of laughed off our little crime of trying to ride for free by actually letting us ride for free. We were just thinking about how much we loved India, when we stop at a station. And a flood of people get on the train. Including a psychotic man yelling at the top of his lungs, “GET OUT OF OUR SEATS!!!” over and over and over again. In retrospect I can understand the frustration of having tickets for a reserved coach and having some freeloading, entitled American kids take your seats. But he was frighteningly angry from the get go. We got up, only to realize that there were no seats anywhere on the train to be had and the entire train ride would be spent standing…standing packed tight in a hot train with hundreds of other people. So tight if you fainted no one would notice. Because there wouldn’t be space for you to fall or even lean differently. So tight I could have gone the entire ride suspended in the air just by the force of other bodies packed against me. The worst part was we didn’t even know the train’s schedule. Was this a “superfast” train that would get us there in 6 hours? Or a simply “fast” train that would take significantly longer.

Needless to say it was an interesting mix of being a nightmare and unbelievably hillarious. We got there in 6 hours by the grace of God (and for free I might add).

And quickly turned our attention to the kite festival, which I think is kind of a misnomer. It’s a kite war fought from the rooftops of the city. The kites are not elaborate designs, they are utilitarian weapons. The goal of each kite-wielding warrior is to “cut down” another kite, meaning you fly your kite in such a way that your kite will bring down another kite by either cutting the string of the kite or capturing the kite. My family must have bought hundreds upon hundreds of simple rhomboid kites in preparation. We had neighbors over to eat and drink and fly kites on the roof. It was amazing to see the sky full of kites and the rooftops across the city full of people in celebratory moods. Until the bandages and hand wraps came out and the blood started flowing. My cousin’s hands were bleeding!! Why? Because they coat the strings with powdered glass. Better to cut your kite with (my dear).

Amazing.

It was possible to get string that was not coated in glass, and that was what I flew my one kite with.

I am no kite-warrior.

I later told my aunt about our train experience and she was appalled. She laughed about it later, but I think her suspicions that raising kids in America turns them crazy were confirmed. All in all my friend and I both got into the competitive game of trying to capture people’s kites. I never quite got the technique down, but the event itself was such a beautiful display of citywide social interaction.

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3 Responses to “Sunday afternoon in the park”

  1. Grace Says:

    Love your stories about India!
    I went there last January… my first time out of America EVER. I spent 7 days in Mumbai and I have few stories of my own… but nothing quite like a kite war.

  2. power kites Says:

    I am always searching online for articles that can help me. Thank you

  3. chips zynga Says:

    i was beginning to think i might probably end up being the sole student that cared about this, at least currently i learn i’m not loonie ๐Ÿ™‚ i’ll make it a point to examine a few several other posts right after i get a little caffeine in me, it can be stressful to read without my coffee, I was really late last evening practicing facebook poker and after drinking a few beers i finished up losing all my zynga poker chips cheers ๐Ÿ™‚

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