Just like a human, the mood of the sky also keeps on swinging as the time passes. The tranquility and serenity of the sky can be observed when it is blue, and its vivacity and exhilaration can be witnessed when it welcomes the spring season, giving way to the celebration of one of the most colourful, vibrant and animated festivals, Basant.
‘Basant’ is a cultural festival that heralds the end of foggy winters and the arrival of sparkling spring season in the Sub-continent. Lahorites, along with a large number of tourists from all over the world, dress up in colourful and exotic ‘Basanti joras’ and celebrate the festivities of Basant by flying kites, enjoying scrumptious food and having countless of activities full of ‘halla gulla’. While the Basant day is just lovely and intoxicating, multicoloured kites in the night seem to bid farewell to the winter and the celebrators, keep on celebrating life at its zenith.
This week, Us checks out for you how Lahore changes during this particular period… How the Lahorites commemorate this festival along with the people of other cities and countries. Above all, what should be the best way to celebrate this colourful carnival…
Vibrant Preparations and Activities of Basant
Purchasing ‘Basanti Joras’
‘Kites and dor (string)’ are not the only items of necessities of Basant for the Lahorites. Buying colourful dresses is also becoming a fundamental requirement of this particular event. Women, after coating their hands with ‘henna’ and adorning their arms with bangles, drape themselves in yellowish and greenish embroidered ‘Basanti joras’. For men the popular attire during this festival is yellow or green dupatta (stole) along with the traditional shalwar kameez.
Arrangement of Lights and Dhols (Drums)
There’s this special arrangement of colourful lights to make the Basant-night more animated and bright. Old havelis (villas) and rooftops of well-known hotels are festooned with bright lights and colourful strips. And how can anyone forget the enchanting beats of dhols on such a rocking event? The dhol walas, dressed up in colourful cholas are the heart and soul of the Basant festival.
Preparation of Special Lahori Food
Basant celebrations cannot be completed without the typical Lahori food. The BBQ and the mouth watering biryani feels even more tempting when the essence of Lahori exuberance is added into them. In the cool night of Basant, the warmth of burning coals stimulates people and enhances their liveliness while the juicy oranges give a lip smacking taste during the Basant noon.
Zeal of Kite Flying and the ‘pechas’ (Tangles)
Here it comes, the most indispensable part of Basant – kite flying. Kites of different tshapes and colours can be seen flying throughout the event. Different types of kite include Gudda (male kite), Guddi (female kite), Tukal, Patang, Pari, Do-Akhal, Rocket and Lepo. ‘Gudda’ and ‘Pari’ are the most powerful and fragile fighter kites, respectively. The most exciting moment of kite flying comes when it involves a succession of ‘pulls’ and ‘releases’ of the string. It is known as ‘pecha’. The kites of pecha-baz (kite flyers) rise, dive and croon in the sky, meanwhile their strings remain busy to cut each other. And when any of the kite flyers cuts the string of the opponent’s kite, he wins that particular encounter. On his victory the dhol walas burst out with their dhols (drums), which is followed by cries of ‘bo-kataaaa’ that literally means ‘yeah, I cut it’.
White kites are flown throughout the night and then the celebrators, exhausted, take a break. When everyone is recharged, the revival takes place in the noon and the rainbow of kites again embellishes the sky. Multihued kites of various multinational companies can be seen swinging all the remaining day . The streets, parks and the rooftops are filled with cries and cheers of bo kataaa and balay balay which presents such a colourful and ecstatic panorama that is not to be seen during any other event.
Luteras (The kite looters)
During the Basant season, you will also find a number of young boys running after the kites, who are colloquially known as ‘luteras’. They recklessly run after the kite and don’t hesitate in throwing a stone to catch the kite.
Dark Side of the Picture
‘Basant festivities cost 27 innocent lives’, was the headline of a leading newspaper of the day after the Basant last year. Who is responsible for this? Who is to be blamed? Would we ever be able to compensate for this loss?
Every year, newspapers have these appalling headlines about people being killed and public property being damaged due to carelessness, but unfortunately these headlines and news stories do nothing other than attracting temporary attention. Every year people are involved in the buying and selling of deadly manjhas that are the basic reason behind the killings during the Basant season. Manjha is actually a string used for flying kites that is sharpened by finely grind glass pasted on the string with the help of a paste made by eggs, wet flour or boiled rice. The paste is used as a glue to stick the glass particles that make the manjha sharp and strong. The chances of a manjha’s being harmful reduce a lot if only a specific amount of glass is used. Nowadays, however, crushed iron particles are also being used in the making of this paste which makes it much more harmful. The sad thing is that people themselves ask the manjha makers to heavily coat the manjha with glass or iron particles.
It was quite emotive when a father had to suppress his tears while remembering the sad incident in which his son had lost his thumb due to the whirling manjha. ‘He, along with his mother, was going on the bike when all of a sudden a string drew close to his neck. Promptly, he tried to shake it off and in doing so, the string whirled on his left thumb. And today he’s deprived of his thumb.”
Despite the ban by the authorities, metal string is used freely, causing countless short circuits, continual tripping of electricity that results in electricity break down that can last for several hours and ultimately cause a grave loss to LESCO. If there are 50 one-hour breakdowns, it cost us 2.5 million rupees, bewails the LESCO Chief.
However, the kite and manjha sellers have their own justifications. The owner of a kite shop said, ‘Kya karain majboor hain, roti bhi to khana hai.’ And when I reminded him of the heavy loss of lives, he said: ‘Marain gay to hum bhi jab humain apna karobar band kerna paray ga…’
The views of the elite were more astonishing. Nineteen-year-old Haseeb Ahmad candidly admitted his fault as he said, ‘I’m not the only one who use metal string. Every second person is using it. It’s fun and a source of enjoyment to grab the flying kite through metal-string. As far as sharp string is concerned it is necessary, otherwise I can’t compete the pecha.’
While there are people like Haseeb who are indifferent to anyone’s loss, no matter how major it is, there are other people who do keep in mind the disastrous effects of using metal strings. ‘I never use metal string or such kind of material for flying kites, but still I enjoy the festival a lot. For me Basant isn’t confined to flying kites only. It’s a source of gathering and having fun. All my cousins come to my home, we enjoy food, music and the cheerfulness of this colourful event,’ commented Faseeh Rasheed, a student of B.Com.
Sehar, a student of BBA, however, is not pleased with the festival. She expresses her annoyance in this way: ‘I am completely against celebrating Basant. We shouldn’t celebrate any event, which can cause great harm to the country and its inhabitants. No doubt, it also brings foreign exchange, but it can’t compensate the loss we face every year. Can someone bring my friend’s brother back, who became a victim of a whirling string two years ago?’
The fact is, Basant festival can be organised in a much better way, but the government can’t come up with feasible and sensible policies. That may be the reason of its failure to fix the problem properly.
Perplexed…! Are you?
The above mentioned scenario must have generated perplexed thoughts in your mind.
I don’t say that the Basant festival itself is bad. It can be celebrated as a cultural festival, but in a proper way. Now, you would be thinking that what proper way am I talking about…
First, the government should strictly ban the deadly manjhas and metal strings. It should issue special licenses for selling kites to particular shopkeepers and make it mandatory for them not to sell strings that are sharpened.
But this is not the only solution. What if the government fails to implement its policies…? Being a civilised and sophisticated nation, it is our duty not to use such kind of stuff, which can harm not only others, but also ourselves.
Place yourself in the position of those parents, brothers and sisters who have lost their loved ones within few seconds just because of those strings, and you may feel the twinge. If you remember, the ‘string dilemma’ has started a few years ago. In the past people used to fly kites with normal string, which wasn’t much sharpened and that’s why such drastic incidents didn’t use to occur. If you too want to enjoy the festivities of Basant to its fullest, you’ll have to put behind the use of such vicious material.
Today, let’s pledge together, ‘We’ll nip the evil in the bud. None of Us will purchase metal or heavily glass or iron particles coated string. All of Us will follow the safety measures while flying kites and will set an example for those who are against this festival just because of the destruction caused by metal strings etc.
So, dear readers, what are you waiting for? Do come to Lahore, be a part of our pledge, and welcome the spring season convivially by celebrating the Basant festivities at its crest. Bo-Kaataaaaaaaaaaa
(The News, 23 February, 2007)