Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Asides of March

When I was younger I had this awesome kite designed to resemble a giant bat. The day it got tangled up in a streetlight in our church parking lot, broke loose, and sailed away to some higher calling was awful in the truest sense of the word: watching the string wrap around the lamp post in a death grip was somehow numinous. Mom helped me build a new kite out of two dowel rods and some plastic sheeting, but it never quite filled me with the same sensation of otherworldly transgression as the bat kite did, not even when I took to scaling the two-story tall church building and flying it off the roof. I'm sharing all this so you'll understand why I was so excited to see Basant in Lahore. Everything I read about it poked directly at the youthful, vampire bat-loving part of me that -- half way up the church wall with my kite dangling from one arm -- reveled in the certainty that if the fall didn't kill me, Mom and Dad surely would.

Anyone who follows Pakistan will recognize immediately that my Lonely Planet was woefully outdated and that the Punjab government -- in a show of parental concern -- no longer allows kites or public [read: Hindu-influenced] springtime festivals. This was further underscored for me when I attempted to buy kite string at the local all-purpose store. After explaining in an over-loud voice "We don't sell that kind of illegal material here," the salesman leaned in closer and continued in a conspiratorial whisper, "but if you go down to the Old City, I know some people who could help you." I did not take him up on his offer, although the idea of getting PNG'd for buying a spool of string was strangely appealing. Illegal kite string sales are probably directly funding the Pakistani Taliban (likely also America's fault).

To make up for the lack of kites, Lahoris compensate by redoubling their bird feeding sadaqah efforts. I'm pretty sure that 'gaining goodwill through tossing meat to hawks' is to Islam as 'gaining goodwill by tossing pennies into wells' is to Christianity, but I'm afraid to say this too loudly lest they ban sadaqah, too. I would toss a penny into my own fountain to wish a happy spring for Pakistan had we not filled it in a few months ago to try and slow the spread of dengue.


Gdine said...

I shudder every time I think about you all climbing that church building. I'm so glad I did not know back then AND that no one got hurt!!

I wish I could remember the bat kite!

Katie said...

It had black wings and a white body hashmarked with black streaks for "hair" -- not a Halloween-looking bat, but a realistic-looking one. Or at least as realistic-looking as a kite can be.

Of course, now it's living on a farm with other kite friends and spending it's time romping in fields and such.

Awais Aftab said...

Basant has always been criticized for being a Hindu festival in Pakistan (erroneously, I think) and this has been the case since my childhood. However, this religious objection has never been strong enough to force the government to ban the festival. Basant was banned for a very different reason, for it had become responsible for huge number of accidents and death. Motorcyclists going on the road would have their throats slit by the razor-sharp string of some stray kite. The newspapers become full of such incidents; I myself know of one or two who lost their lives in this fashion. The Government was simply unable to stop the manufacturing and sale of the metallic-coated extra-sharp strings that were being sold in the market. People were exasperated. It was in this context that basant was banned.

This beautiful spring festival was not murdered by religious zealots; it was murdered by the people, who could not resist the taste of blood and turned the simple benign act of flying a kite into a blood bath.

I still miss basant; I remember it from my childhood, the spirit of festivity in the air, even though I was horrible at flying kites myself. And I wish Lahore can experience that again.

Katie said...

There must be a way to bring it back. Say, in the next three months, before I leave.