Last Friday afternoon as one took to the unswerving road approaching the beautiful Al Sawadi beach, the skyline swarmed with colourful patterns. The atmosphere was charged with an unusual display of high energy, exuberance and enthusiasm. Amidst the joviality, the air was windy and skies cloudy, and as revellers cheered and shouted, a feeling of anticipation, joy and jubilation gripped all as the stage was set for Basant Mela, a traditional occasion of thanksgiving and merry-making.
The festival, now in its 14th year, attracts kite enthusiasts from all over the city and across all communities, and this year was no exception. More than 15,000 revellers flocked the venue to the city to display their bright and beautiful flying machines and, to demonstrate their superior kite flying skills.
Vice President of the Pakistan Social Club, A.H. Raja said, "This is our annual mega event. Started in 2001, the event has been witnessing huge participation from all sections of society. We take pride in saying that we are pioneers in Muscat of the kite flying event as there was no wind sport prior to this on public platforms."
The centuries old festival is celebrated in Pakistan to mark the change of the season from winter to summer, or the day when the wind shifts direction and winter retreats. Capitalising on the activity of the wind, kite flying is the highlight of the celebration. Originating in the Punjab region, the festival is widely celebrated by Pakistanis all over the world.
An excited participating couple at the event, Bushra Majid and Adil Mumtaz Khan, said they spent weeks before the festival making lots of kites, with lightweight coloured paper and bamboo frames, and treating the manja (cord), with mixture of cooked rice paste and ground glass, which enables kite flyers to indulge in competitive sports like incising each others cords in mid-air.
"Kite-making is a big business in the weeks leading up to the festival. It's smart to have a stack of kites ready to go, because the main part is not just flying the kite, but survival in the skies among others. If your kite goes down, you don't want to be left out for the remainder of the celebration," said Adil.
The kite strings were tight and cutting into their fingers, but such was the fun and energy around that nobody seemed to give it a break. "It is too much fun, and we have got so little time. I have to cut at least 100 kites before I let mine go down," said Majid Javed Sohlat, adjusting and pulling the cord on his taped fingers.
The fun part lies not only in flying the kite but more in how many kites one can cut and win. The team members remain alert and rush to collect as many of the fallen kites as they can. "It is really hard to try to cut someone else's kite without letting yours go down too," adds Hina Quadri, who flew the biggest kite at the event.
Many participants had experimented with creative designs on their kites. From putting up celebrity pictures, to social messages, to giving shapes of animals and other objects; each year, the kites get bigger and more elaborate. This year's standouts included a giant airplane, a kite resembling a butterfly. Amongst the kite flyers showcasing their skills Nasir Hussein mesmerised the crowds by flying 10 kites on one string. Not to be left behind, Hina flew her three-meter airplane kite, the biggest at the event, with great elegance.
"Basant Mela is a very special event for me. Very close to heart, it gives me a feeling of home away from home. While coming to the beach, the moment I spotted a kite flying, I was overwhelmed with joy. It made me so happy from within," said Waqas Manzoor, another Pakistani living in Muscat.
Though the official festival only lasts for only two days, kites are flown for weeks surrounding it. Many people even come from Pakistan to enjoy the festival in Muscat, as kite flying has been banned there in many regions due to untoward incidents.
Earlier celebrated at Azaiba beach, the venue was shifted to Al Sawadi beach due to traffic and security reasons. A musical night was also organised as part of the festival featuring local artists from Pakistan.
Recounting an anecdote about the event, Raja said "In the inaugural edition of the festival, someone got concerned that the kites could obstruct the path of low flying planes and intervened to suspend the celebration. We had a tough time convincing them that kites don't go up far enough to obstruct flight paths."
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