Makar Sankranti: Gujarati Mardi Gras Minus the Swag
Illustration: Akshita Monga
My father is a self-proclaimed “active person” who loves playing “games” and “sport”, which, for him, include (illegally) plucking cherries from the neighbour’s farm, jumping over gutters, playing with bottle caps, throwing kids into the river so they figure out how to swim, and playing with marbles in the dusty veranda. In his own words, it was a very “different time” back then. Of course, this was the ’60s and the only fitness apps they believed in back then, were glasses of milk and plates of fruits.
In his lifetime, my father has witnessed the erosion and eventual extinction of things that were #lit during his childhood. And like many people of his generation, it has made him a wee bit bitter. This is evident when he occasionally bursts into rants about the “mindless” video game and mobile phone culture that has shaped my childhood.
But there’s one day in the year that makes my father forget all the ranting, and gets his eyes lit up like Harry Potter’s after he spots the Golden Snitch.
Yes, it’s the day of Makar Sankranti, the Gujju equivalent of Mardi Gras minus the swag. Makar Sankranti aka Uttarayan is as important for us Gujjus as undhiyu, dandiya, stock markets, and Narendra Modi. We simply can’t stop fangirling over these things (sorry, Rahul baba). This is also the day my otherwise mellow father brings out his competitive best — and his arch nemesis is Bunty ke papa, Apollo Creed to my father’s Rocky Balboa.
But before the competition is family bonding. There’s an age-old Gujarat adage that goes, “A family that flies kites together, stays together.” So we all get together and scream, “Kai po che” like our life depends on it while we pass around til chikki as if they were weed cookies and down Rooh Afza like tequila shots.
My dad is nervously excited ahead of Sankranti. He is the only guy I know who looks forward to January, the most depressing month of the year. It’s like my father has two personalities, one reserved for the rest of the year and one for January, when he goes from Bruce Wayne to full-on Batman, patang and phirki in tow.
Dad, who avoids shopping like Rahul Gandhi avoids election season, the man who won’t go to the market to buy bread, gets his hands on the finest-quality manja, sourced from the markets of Surat. The manja is made by men with razor-sharp wit and it is so fine that it could cut your soul. It will certainly shred Bunty ke papa’s kite.
Once the kites and manja are in possession, dad decides to delegate. While he’s planning his moves for the D-day, my cousin and I tie the kannies (knots) to the kites, the job of sidekicks, not the superhero. He doesn’t want to waste precious time doing manual labour while the opponents are ripping out one kite after another during the practice games. But dad’s a pro, net practice is for noobs.
On the day of Sankranti, he’s up early, dressed to the nines in his superhero suit of starched white kurta-pyjama. He’s pacing around the house, restless, waiting for us lazy folks to get out of bed. “You young people should go up on the terrace and have fun, these are your days to enjoy,” he tells us. What he doesn’t tell us though, is that he is jonesing for a round with Bunty ke papa, who is also probably pacing around his living room.
As he makes his way to the arena, the building terrace, expert commentary is first delivered on the wind conditions and what it’ll be like throughout the day. (The met department better take note, this is where the real weather expert’s at.) After an in-depth analysis, it’s time to get down to business: One kid holds the phirki, the other one helps with the kite getting elevation.
It is in these moments, when I see my father at his childlike best. Screaming “Kai po che” with such fervour that it would put Sunny Deol in Borderto shame. He sends up his kite and fights for it as aggressively as an investment banker trying to close a deal. The competition is serious AF, but I am most amused: I find my non-confrontational father’s change in personality hilarious, especially if he is losing a kite fight. And nothing angers him more than losing to Bunty ke papa.
Last year, Dad didn’t have a great run. This year, he’s all geared up for the clash as the challenger. But no matter what happens today, my scoreboard will always read the same: Dad 1, Bunty ke Papa: 0