The boisterous and vibrant kite running tradition of Old Dhaka has waned. DJ parties, Hindi songs and dances have replaced it.
"Lenja" or tail is an integral part of kites. There are kites named Chokkhudar lenja, daba lenja, Rongdhonu lenja. The vendor explained that the kites are named after certain structures adding the word "lenja" with it.
The kite vendors are barely getting any time to talk as the kite market has filled up with eager customers prior to the Shakrain festival or kite festival. The word Shakrain means "end" and this is a festival to celebrate the last day of winter. Poush, the ninth month of the Bengali calendar is sees it departure with the unique festival to celebrate the southward journey of the sun from the tropic of Capricorn to the tropic of Cancer.
Kite flying used to serve as the most abiding gesture of saying goodbye to winter and from the way some of the streets, including Shakhari Bazar's narrow passages have transformed themselves into kite-selling hub, one would think that the tradition is well and alive. Not true.
The change that occurred over the last decade was leave one with dismay. The Old Dhaka has seen few kites over the years, instead evening fireworks slowly took over. And now, shockingly enough, DJs are taking over as most rooftop parties have tilted towards the west – in the direction of Bollywood.
So, instead of kites, foods and many other traditional ways of celebration, one now encounters Bollywood-style bashes.
Traditionally, this is the season of kite flying as the wind is favourable in this time of year. Probably this is why Kites once became an important part of this celebration. It is said that Nawab Nazim Muhammad Khan introduced this culture in old Dhaka in the year 1740.
Since then, the southern part of Dhaka has been avidly carrying out the practice and has been considering it as a tradition of Old Dhaka. The town dawns to a festive garb with the sky swarmed with colourful kites.
Even in the 1980s, above a stretch of areas starting from Islampur to Faridabad, the sky would be teeming with colourful kites. Old Dhaka areas would be drenched in colours of kites for some days on end as on the occasion of Sankrain. At present, kite flying and running have become "unfashionable".
"When we were kids there used to be kite flying competitions. The tradition of competition is gone now, though we still buy kites and fly them for our own pleasure," said Labiba, an inhabitant of the old town. She said, "These days DJ parties are the main attraction." There was clear hint of nostalgia and melancholy in her voice.
Interestingly, the markets around the region looked totally in sync with the festival and shoppers enthusiastically put on display. Almost every shop had kites ranging between Tk5 and Tk250. The most expensive one costs Tk500. The price of Natai starts from Tk70 and goes up to Tk700.
Surjoti Nandi, whose profession is making Idols has set up a kite shop especially for this occasion. He said, every day he is earning Tk10,000 to Tk15,000. In his storage there were "Motu Patlu", and "Bahubali" kites. The popular media has invaded the kite market to attract buyers. Nandi, however, informed The Business Standard that the local paper-made kites are more popular than Bahubali kites as they are easy to fly. But kids are more in love with imported "Motu Patlu" kites.
"Is there any kite champion?" Faced with the question most kite buyers we approached smiled and said, "We do not hold competitions any longer. We fly kites with our family, on our own."
Everyone echoed the same sentiment that "the tradition is long gone."
In the afternoon there were sporadic kites on the sky. Standing on the roof of six-storeyed building one could sense that people were flying kites separately. All those kite runners were only waiting for the night to fall.
As the evening rolled in, Labiba's statement proved to be true – people's attention was on the evening rooftop parties. After sunset the scenario changed totally. The fireworks and fanus took over the sky. Dancing laser lights from the roofs began to assault the eyesight. Alongside all this, Loud Hindi songs and contemporary dance commenced and scene looked something out of a Bollywood movie.
People from different ages joined the celebration. It was food and fireworks that really became the staples of Shakrain in the last twenty or so years. This year too laser work and firework together set the backdrop for the DJ parties that began all around. Amid this unfolding mesmerising spectacle, all who joined the fanfare agreed how the old tradition has waned and DJ parties have become a norm, lending the Shakrain festival a filmic look.
Another young boy came forward to the correspondent and said, "Visit our rooftop in Shakharibajar tomorrow. Our party is going to be way more grand that this."
When asked whether they were going to have kite runners there, the boy said, "Our sound system is going to be more powerful."