When radio changed a Gujarat taboo

January 15th, 2009 - 11:23 am ICT by IANS  

Ahmedabad, Jan 15 (IANS) There was a time not so long ago when kite flying was considered taboo in northern Gujarat, particularly in middle and upper class families. But what may have changed things was a voice from the sky - running commentaries on All India Radio. Old timers in districts like Mehsana, Patan, Sabarkantha and Banaskantha say they are delighted to see kites splashed across the sky on each Makar Sankranti, a harvest festival that was celebrated Wednesday. For, when they were young, social mores put the sport firmly out of their reach.

“Watch towers at the ruins of forts were the places where one usually found kites flying, and not on the terraces of the common folk,” said Mansukhbhai Parmar, 80, a former deputy collector who lives in Visnagar of Mehsana district.

Kite flying was seen as a waste of time and money. Most often witnessed at the end of the rainy season and Dussehra, middle and upper class people considered it the pastime of vagabonds and rustics.

“Kite flying on the terrace of a house was forbidden,” said Mukund Brahmakshatriya, a 75-year-old resident of Patan and a scholar of history.

In those days, kites used to be brought from Agra in Uttar Pradesh. If a boy from a middle or upper class family was found hiding a kite, elders would inevitably tear it up and throw it away, saying it was unbecoming for a decent family.

“Despite a nagging desire we could not take to kite flying as it was considered a low class activity,” Brahmakshatriya said wistfully. However, Surat in those days saw a great deal of kite flying, he added.

All this was true until three decades ago. What is widely believed to have broken the jinx is running commentaries on the sport by All India Radio.

A large number of people from all walks of life would assemble near a radio set to hear the live broadcast of kite flying sessions from other parts of Gujarat during Uttarayan, another name for Makar Sankranti.

“It was an alien art, not part of north Gujarat’s culture,” Brahmakshatriya told IANS. So people were curious. “The commentaries were eagerly heard by the elderly and that could have hastened the end of the taboo on kite flying.”

Agreed A.K. Patel, a retired agriculture officer in Visnagar: “Listeners could not believe their ears when told that kites were being flown on a grand scale.”

“The AIR commentaries turned out to be interesting indeed and gradually made people crazy about kites,” Patel told IANS.

Famous Gujarati writer Jyotendra Dave was one of the well-known names who would give graphic details of kite flying sessions from Ahmedabad or Vadodara. He has passed away and the AIR commentaries also stopped once doordarshan arrived on the scene in the 1980s.

But, by then, kites were well entrenched in the skies of north Gujarat.

Said Patel: “You could say all this came about thanks to a cry from the heavens (AIR)!”

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