V: For them the sky spreads

"Aibo Kaatteeee!!", a yell comes from a rooftop. We looked up at the sky at a falling kite; And then below at the streets, dozens of 5 to 10 year olds came running from each street, nook and corner to loot the patang and, if they are lucky, the manjha.

It's not the material part of the loot that interests anyone as much as the thrill of looting. The first law of patangbazi - whoever catches the falling kite is the new owner. The original owner faught with it but lost it. He can't claim it anymore. It's so much like kabutarbazi, which, incidently, is not as common in Ghaziabad. Only one rooftop has pigeon cages and perches made of bamboo for them. This guy has no fear of losing his pigeons to anyone. In old times in cities like Lukhnow (Whose name, my dears, should be Nakhlau, and not 'Lakh-Nau'; Why would someone name a city 'One Lakh Boats'. Don't let them tell you time cures everything or it heals everything, it doesn't do that. Time just buries everything, or distorts at best.)

Where was I? The pigeons? Kabootar and the wars over them. The old cracking busy chowks stained red with paan spits; noisy with the gurh-gurh sounds and thick blinding smoke of hukkahs, rounds of shayari, sky greayed with flight of hundreds of pigeons, and deafening sounds of their fluttering wings. Nakhlau was the capital of Kabutarbazi; Those who got too old for kites, capture each others pigeons. I was driving under them on my father's old Lambretta to reach Dana Bazaar, and I stopped there under an old banyan tree with aerial roots just a whisper away from the ground. That where Shazia lived, Shazia of coy glances, Shazia of naughty smiles.

But that's not what I was talking about. I was talking about something else. Where was I? Patang! There is a song too, some 60s movie 'Chali chali re patang meri chali re/Chali badalon ke par hoke; dilon pe sawar hoke/ Dekho patang meri chali re'. I remember making kite at home with wheat flour paste, newspaper sheets and sticks from tilli wala jharoo. Flying it with saddee, getting it cut and seeing it float away with sadness ...

Mithai!! That's where I was, and the snake. The rat snake they started to worship. The shrine they made for him, and the crowd gathered at the Tar wali Masjid.

This is what Ali said happened.

'The angry voices inside the mosque had almost just settled down. The believers were just about to start offering the prayers. And just then, right then, like an actor enters a play at a key moment, this 10 year old boy Shakur came in running to call his father. "What happened? What happened?" Everyone asked, some panicked fearing the worse. "They started it didn't they? I told you they would. What happened, say something."

'Ganga Express had derailed over this little old crumbling bridge a couple of miles outside of the train station and had fallen in a small muddy lake under it. Shakur and some other kids saw it from a distance and came running to call for help.

'The prayers were forgotten; the caretaker of mosque, Jamaal started to call for rescue volunteers on the mosque's loudspeaker. The nuisence, for a moment, turned into a blessing.

'People collected from the neighbourhood and several passerbys stopped too. It was peak afternoon hour. Not many were home at this time, but there were many collected in the mosque. Some 150-200 people ran to rescue the victims. Muchhad too, hearing the announcement on loudspeaker left his shop unattended and ran with the volunteers towards the accident spot.

'Those who knew how to swim, jumped in the lake and got struggling people out, those who didn't helped by running to call ambulances, police etc. In less than an hour, before official rescue workers could reach the accident site, everyone was rescued from the lake. There were no casualities at all. Zero casualities, what do you think of that? It's unbelievable, isn't it?'

Ali stopped, and looked at us with a bemused expression, waiting for us to react. Vikku's cigarette smoke was thinning, he threw it away and we all went down to Ali's room.

We emptied our pockets, counted the coins and bills and got five chilled Coca Cola bottles (Fifth one for Henna, she was merciless this way). Sipping the Coke, we stood looking down at the tree and the shrine below it quietly.

"What amuses me", Nabbu broke the silence, "is mindlessness of it all. How such a tiny, harmless random event can give potentially give rise to a very violent, hateful turn of events. The biggest problem of India is uneducation. Well, of course there are population and poverty. And corruption. Also Pollution..."

"Yeah yeah, so 'one of the biggest' problems then," Ali interrupted, "One of the biggest problems in India today is uneducation."

"I wouldn't say so", I said.

Vikku looked at me and said, "The sad news is, now there is no chance of exams getting indefinitely postponed. I think we should start discussing the Operating Systems soon."

Everyone agreed, and that's exactly what we did...

And that's exactly what happened. I always wanted to, but never talked religion with Vikku again.

So okay, maybe a thing or two were chronologically misplaced, or not stated most accurately; but you must remember, not many saw it all happen. And those who did, saw it from different angles and at different times.

This is just my personal account; my version of history. It's like a homemade kite. Some details are lost, but it's still 100% kite.

But if you're an avid patangbaaz, you'll know the difference between an ordinary kite and a kite made by a 'khalifa' or 'ustad' - the master kite-makers. The ones from Rampur, Bareilly, Agra, Jaipur or Delhi. The two rupee ones! The ones eyed with respect and adoration. The best kites are made where best kite fliers are born. Do you think a good kite can be made in Mumbai? Someplace where kids prefer watching cricket on TV rather than fly kites? No Sir! Not possible. Mark my word, not one single good kite has ever come out from that city.

You want to see a good kite flier, wait for the monsoon months and then come visit here, these Jagdish Lines, the fever begins with the new year and lasts till the Makar Sankranti. 30-40 year olds sit with dozens of kites on the rooftops and spend hours fighting their kites with others'. You should see Dildar Khan fighting his kites from his rooftop near the big water tank.

But that's not what I was talking about. What was I talking about? Let's see. Where was I? ... Mithai?

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