14 January is celebrated in India as Makar Sankranti.
It’s an ancient Hindu festival dedicated to the deity Surya (the sun) and signifies the end of the winter solstice and heralds the beginning of longer days. Unlike most other Hindu festivals that are calculated on the position of the moon, Makar Sankranti is based on the solar cycle and hence its dates are always in sync with the Gregorian calendar and fall on either the 14th or 15th of January.
Across India Makar Sankranti is associated with a mind-boggling number of social, cultural and religious customs and rituals. However, to any Indian kid worth his salt, kite flying and til laddoos (tiny round sweets of sesame bound in jaggery) are probably the only two that really matter!
Back in the day, every square inch of terrace and roof space would be occupied by juvenile ‘armies’ intent on sending their kites into battle. The sole objective: ‘cutting’ other kites with specially prepared ‘maanja’ (kite thread) lethally coated with a mixture of powdered glass (from crushed light bulbs) and glue.
Ground forces patrolled the streets with long sticks and branches. They scoured the skies for vanquished kites that floated rudderless back to earth. Once captured they were rushed to the terraces to be pressed back into active service and flown into the ‘line’ of fire.
During my 2-year stint as a Trauma Registrar I remember bracing ourselves for the surge of injuries that were unique to that particular week. These included motorcyclists with serious neck lacerations inflicted by the maanja of kites flying across the road or kids hit by passing cars as they blindly rushed to snare falling kites.
For me personally Makar Sankranti brings to mind one particular incident that had – and still has – a strong bearing on how I schedule my surgeries on the 14th and 15th of January. Sometime in the early 90’s I had planned a very major surgery on the 14th of January. It would block the Operation Theatre for the entire day and I was worried about the availability of an anaesthetist and an OT.
I can still recall a colleague’s words to me: “The 14th of January happens to be Makar Sankranti. No other surgeon will operate on that day as it is considered to be very inauspicious so you should have no problem with either theatre booking or an anaesthetist.”
To cut a long story short, although the surgery was hugely successful the patient did not do well. Cross my heart, if ever there was a ring of absolute truth to this classic clinical cliche this was it.
And so after my OPD on the 14th of January this year, having nothing else to do I took a walk down to the kite store.
It’s been decades since I’d last handled a kite let along flown one and on arrival I was an excited kid once more, intent on selecting from a variety of kites, maanja and firkis (wooden spools that held the maanja). The only difference being that this time, much to the storekeepers delight, I had a bit more money in my pocket!
In Goa a week later, between awesome sessions of bird watching (including the crested serpent eagle above), a never-before-seen species of bird (below) was spotted taking to the skies above the farmhouse!
The image personifies how I envision my life from now on!
From decades of being duty bound to prioritising my time with things that were not necessarily at the very top of my favourite-things-to-do list….
…to easing into a phase where I can concentrate on activities that are… and, most importantly, without any feeling of guilt!!
These lines from a song in the 1964 Walt Disney classic, ‘Mary Poppins’, immortalised by the beautiful Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke sum it up perfectly…
Let’s go fly a kite,
Up to the highest height.
Let’s go fly a kite
and send it soaring…