South by South West, Austin

Consider this: You’re in Kolkata and you come to know about Durga Puja only on night before it starts. Or, you’re in Mumbai unaware of Ganesh Chaturthi till you actually see someone shouting – Ganapati Bappa, Mourya. I consider it a cardinal sin.

I was close to commiting one. 

SXSW  (South by South West) is supposedly a kick-ass annual Music and Film festival in Austin. Too bad I came to know about it only a couple of days back and even then didn’t appreciate the enormity of the event – supposedly 4 million people from around the globe come here for a week. Though this figure is very small compared to what happens at Kumbh Melas , or even Durga Puja, Rath Yatra or Ganesh Chaturthi; it is a huge number for a small US city like Austin. My cab driver told me today the number today – I haven’t verified it at any website though. He was very excited when he declared – ‘You’ll hardly get any cab the next week. Everyone moves to downtown during South by South west. There is just too much money to be made driving a cab at that time.

I started surfing about it this evening and realized its importance only after that . You can look for sxsw tweets here. With so many things to plan for, I’m having a hard time finding out what to miss. The only glitch – it starts on Friday the 13th.

Just decided an hour ago that I’ll try and use the New Media to share the experiences. Will experiment live blogging in my blog and micro-blogging with Twitter. Tune in for the flavor.
Any suggestions on what to write about?
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Kite Festival 2009, Zilker Park, Austin

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The word ‘Kite’ brings several images with separate connotations to my mind.

Courtesy Wikipedia

Courtesy Wikipedia

Kite Runner – ‘Kite’ reminds me of the book ‘The Kite Runner‘ by Khaled Hosseini (also adapted into a film of the same name). It is a story of a boy born into a rich family in Afghanistan in 70s who now lives in USA. He let a terrible thing happen to his best friends during childhood. Several years later, he gets a chance to redeem himself and in the process, visits war-ravaged Afghanistan. Kite Running forms an integral part of the story and several pages of the story are woven around Kite festival, children and adults flying kites, kite flying competition and running for the kites that befall during the competition. The protagonist gets a second chance, but the story almost makes you wonder, will Afghanistan get another chance.

Courtesy Wikipedia

Courtesy Wikipedia

Makar Sankranti – ‘Kite’ also reminds me of the festival of Makar Sankranti in India. The festival signifies the beginning of the harvest season in India and is called by various names in different parts of the country – Makara Sankranthi, Pongal, Tilgul, Yellu-Bella, Lohri, Maghi, Uttarayan etc. During pre teens, I used to stand on rooftops with a couple of friends (in fact every male tween in the neighborhood) and practice flying kites just as the New Year arrived. On weekdays, we used to practice after coming back from school – 3:30 to 5pm. And on the weekends, the entire day, probably just after ‘Shri Krishna’ on TV. Flying a kite was particularly difficult on cloudy days – January being the coldest time of the year no sun overhead meant a temperature of 12/13 degrees.

A day before Makar Sankranti, which is usually around 14th January, we used to buy several kites, long threads and ‘Manjha’ (pronounced Mun-jhaa and means glass lining some part of the thread) materials. Manjha is an art and is necessary for executing the kite cutting techniques – pull and release. Don’t know whether the art (of buying, sharpening the thread and flying kites) has changed these days – I know kites are even available online these days, but buying kites from the shops is an experience to cherish. Note to self: Write a full post on ‘Kite Flying in India‘ soon.

This time around, I was fortunate enough to witness Austin Kite Festival (I missed Mardi Gras!).

Zilker Kite Festival

Zilker Kite Festival

Austinites celebrate Kite Festival on the first Sunday of March every year at Zilker Park, thus called Zilker Kite Festival. Well, it’s a coincidence that Austin Kite Festival started on the same year as Oscars, in 1929. It is organized by The Exchange Club, which is an ‘all-volunteer, national service organization for men and women who want to serve their community, develop leadership skills and enjoy new friendships’. It seemed that the festival is immensely popular among Austin families – and also among tourists since it is open to all and free.

People: Several hundreds of people – families, singles, couples, young and old, gathered in an open ground. Kites of plenty of shapes, sizes and colors could be seen on the sky. It was an amazing sight to see kids not even 10 years of age flying huge kites. A few guys looked pro – their sleek kites were flying the highest. What amazed me was that no one tried to cut the flying kite of others. The Kite competition was a test of high-fly skill rather than a combat. And this was such a huge difference from the way kite flying is done in India. Even a no gooder like me could fly even lame kites pretty high and cut the thread of another high flier. Sigh!

An army of Kites

An army of Kites

Everyone wasn’t flying kites though. Those who weren’t, engaged in a variety of activities. Some watched other fly kites. Some others were busy in wall climbing, rotating rings around their waists (don’t know the term for this) or getting tattoo/mehndi/henna applied on their bodies – some on palm, others on the pelvic or tailbone area. Few spread out sheets on the ground and were eating or just lying around. Others were busy checking out different food stalls. I checked out a chicken kebab from a Turkish stall – kebabilicious. And it was delicious.

If you happen to be around Austin at this time of the year, do visit Zilker Park on the first Sunday of March for the Kite Festival. And a must see is the mass kite ascension at 3pm.

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