This will be published some two weeks after Lohri has passed in the Punjab but … HAPPY LOHRI!!!!? That question mark is for you, my friends, who have no idea what Lohri is. First, it is pronounced Low-dee not Laurie. I know, I know right?
How do I describe Lohri? It’s a combination Kite Festival, Solstice, New Year’s, Halloween… It’s just all sorts of fun mixed into one… well, two days. January 13th and 14th. It is celebrated in Punjab and kids have school off.
Since it is also the end of winter, winds are pretty good for kite flying. What else to do with kids and winds? Thousands upon thousands of people line the rooftops flying kites.
Kite flying here is not at all like kite flying in Canada. Here it is seriously competitive, with flyers attempting to cut down each other’s kites. Groups of kids roam the streets hoping to recover cut down kites in reasonable condition. Those kites are then kept as trophies, repaired and flown or repaired and resold. Everyone understands that you forfeit your kite if it is kite … it now belongs to whoever retrieves it (or a tree or electrical pole). So if you’re coming for this kite festival, you want to be sure you have more than one kite. They’re pretty inexpensive so grab six or a dozen and have some fun!
There is a nylon kite string known locally as China Dor which is banned in India. It does an excellent job of cutting other kites but, as you can imagine, it also does a good job of injuring people and animals and even, rumour has it, a few deaths. It is everywhere and it is sometimes hard to see until you’re tangled in it. There are stories that people have even died encountering the China Dor at high speeds on motorcycles along the rods. Hence the ban. Tons of people use it though. I recovered two downed kites myself (and by recovered I mean I picked them up when the landed on the roof of the house where I am staying) and both had the nylon string on them. And again, it is everywhere – on light standards and electrical poles, trees and streets.
We spent several hours flying kites after we did errands in the morning. The errands included buying popcorn, ladoos, and peanuts, wishing balloons and other items that we would need for a fun Lohri festival. The treats are given along with money to children who come around to sing special Lohri songs. The host unit must have expected lots of these because we bought a LOT of popcorn and other treats. But, as fate would have it, we only got one group of four kids to entertain us with their song. They were very, very enthused though and though I didn’t understand their song, they insisted that I listen to the whole thing.
The popcorn was kind of nasty. I’m not sure what sort of smokey fire it was popped over but yeah, not eating that stuff again. It tasted burned and it also tasted like the air pollution around here. Just gross. The peanuts came in a bag clearly marked “Mini Pretzels”. Awesome. However, the mistaken packaging gave me some hesitation about how they would taste. I haven’t tried the peanuts or ladoos because once again, I was hit with digestive issues. Not sure what I ate but it was coming from inside the house and I’ve been sick since shortly after returning from Shimla … so apart from a taste of nasty, smokey popcorn, it was just water for me all day long.
Once it got dark enough, the bonfires started. We had someone drop off “fuel” earlier in the day. By fuel, I mean buffalo patties. Now for manure patties to make good fuel, they MUST be dry. MUST. These? NOT dry. Well, they had a dry crusty surface but inside they were as moist as a Tollhouse cookie. Gross. [I apologize to any reader who had a Tollhouse cookie in their mouths as they read this. Tollhouse rocks].
I spent some time trying to get a fire going with these things, which was successful despite the “assistance” of the host unit. She wanted to burn the whole lot at one time, the whole lot of damp patties. Yeah. As soon as I would get a flame going she was ready to smother it with another damp patty. For ever “hole” I put in the fire to ensure it would have oxygen, she was ready to cover it with patty bits. Seriously could not keep her fingers out of the fire, so it took much longer than normal to get it burning. At one point, after she tried to build our buffalo patty bonfire so high that it would topple we had to ban her from the fire altogether for a full 10 minutes (so that the fuel could be safely arranged and given an opportunity to first dry and then burn). Our fire ended up being mostly smoke – acrid nasty smoke because it was burning too fast and the patties were damp inside. It burned up within about an hour or so and after some time, we left the host unit too it. But oh well, it was fun anyway.
We ended the evening by releasing our “Wishing” hot air balloons. These came with instructions (see somewhere below) that no-one could follow. At least the English version of the instructions could not be followed. The factory in China where these were made clearly did not invest in a translator or had the foreman’s son do this based on his 6th grade English semester. Seriously China? You let these things out of the country? Dudes. Luckily, the engineer in me was able to figure it out. That and I have a vague memory of how these work from setting them loose during various Vietnamese festivals. It was raining lightly and I worried a little about how that would affect the balloons (i.e. would it make the balloon too heavy to inflate before the wax burned itself out or would it bring them down too early and risk having them land with lit wax?). Luckily the rain was light enough to have only very little effect.
So, first you unfold the paper balloon and have someone hold it upright while you affix a wax and cotton “basket” and light that on fire. Then the physics is basic. Hot air rises and trapped in the balloon, causes the balloon to float in the sky. It’s amazing how fast these rose and how far they floated. But for one minor… semi-minor… okay, almost disastrous incident.
The little sister is 15. 15 year old’s can’t be relied upon to find matching socks let alone pay attention around fire, especially if they have a tablet or phone handy. We burned two small holes in the first balloon because she wasn’t holding it upright. I look up to see… a phone in her hand (since has been confiscated for some time). That balloon flew anyway thankfully because the holes were small and near the bottom – no disaster. The near disaster would come later.
So a balloon gets released a little before it is ready (cue someone getting a phone ready to take a video instead of hanging on to the balloon) It flew straight toward a light standard and got caught up, burning… against the electrical wires and the halogen light. Yeap. We called to a neighbour to throw something at the balloon to breach it (amazed it wasn’t breached by the heat of the light and its housing) but he just stood there. We called down to the host unit – no help there either. It then was carried by the wind directly onto the electrical wires. Great. Perma-blackout for the colony along with other dangers… I’m getting ready to run down and start pelting this thing with rocks to get it to fall. Finally a gust of wind picked it up and it finally, miraculously floated off into the night skies where it belonged.
Once the wax is consumed, the fire goes out and the balloon falls onto the ground (or more probably it falls onto a rooftop) again to join the masses of other garbage. I felt a little bad about that but … at least the paper is biodegradable. The wax and cotton is also biodegradable and the thin wire circle is reusable. Once in will other garbage, it has a good chance of being recovered and reused. So, yeah… I still feel a little bad.
Eventually I confiscated little sister’s phone and then her tablet (she’s 15, she’ll get over it) and we had more fun setting these into the skies properly, with closer supervision and no further incidents. We still have another six or eight to free at some point but for that night, the rain got colder and we became more tired so we ended that fun without letting all of them loose.
We also lit small fire crackers in the street. Very small ones that were mostly poppers with 8 or 10 small torches and some sparklers. The little sister had fun doing that and was very attentive to what she was doing! Yay! All in all, it was a fun evening.
The next day did not go nearly as well…
Until next time,
Peace & love,