Vidyanagar (city of education) is a small town in Western India. It is a university township and home to Sardar Patel University. Also nearby we have the largest cooperative Dairy (GCMMF) and Institute of Rural Management. The town is full of young students who come from all over India. Here, the paved roads are flanked by sandy tracts with rows of shops, bungalows or buildings.
There is a simplicity to this place and an organic nature to its existence. Of course there are buildings and cars, but within the town there still exists the old world trappings. If you were attentive, you would be able to catch a glimpse of it every now and then. Thinks like the camel cart, roaming cattle, stray dogs and the travelling vegetable vendors. There is the occasional knife sharpener and the mattress maker who makes a new cotton filled mattress for you in your own backyard and to your specifications. Then there are tailor shops who still use the old sewing machines and tailor make shirts and trousers.
On my first trip here, I was woken up in the morning by ringing bells. I glanced out of my window and saw a man with a hand cart ringing a large bell. He was the local milkman. Soon there were people coming out from everywhere in the neighbourhood to buy milk. It was still early morning and the sun was not up yet. The milk is fresh and full fat. The yogurt they make here is thick and sweet like ice cream. The fresh produce in the local market, hawked in disorganized cacophony is awesome. It is such a contrast to the organized and climate controlled supermarket aisle that we are used to. This is the real India and not one designed for the tourist. I always make it a point to come here whenever I visit India.
I try my best to visit in January to catch the kite festival. I am here once again. The January sun rises in the horizon.
A pandemonium of Parrots flies across the sky to distant farms. They will spend a good part of the day feasting on grains and fruits. It is still early hours as the sleepy town prepares to come to life. Across the street, the local grocer is receiving his resupplies by camel cart. The camel waits patiently while the supplies are unloaded. At times, I have seen an empty camel cart going home without anyone riding it, as if on auto-pilot.
As daylight spreads over the town, a troop of monkeys suddenly appear out of no where. There are big monkeys, young monkeys as well as infant monkeys clinging to their mother. The monkeys take their own time to settle down and eat Almonds from our tree. Some are curious to see what is cooking in the kitchen. If you are not careful, a few of these monkeys would not hesitate to raid the house. The monkeys like to spend some time in one place before moving on. As they settle down, they preen each other. The infants walk around, staying close to their mother and explore the surroundings.
Soon, the monkeys continue on their way towards the fields to forage and will come back in the evening just before the parrots return. We have breakfast and get ready for the day. The Kite festival is a big thing here and consists of a build up towards the actual kite festival. People stock up on colorful kites and strings. Some kids start flying kites to practise kite wars. These kites are very agile and designed for maximum torque and maneuverability. My folks have already stocked up on Kites and string for me. Close to 10 am, we go to the terrace of our building with our kites. It is a balmy 30 degrees centigrade. There are people on the terrace of every building and they are flying kites. The sky is full of colorful kites. Some large, some small and a few with long tails. There are kite wars taking place and orphan kites that lost a kite war drifting aimlessly in the sky, carried by the winds until they come to ground where a bunch of urchins run around with long sticks trying to catch these kites.
There is a festive atmosphere. Everyone has music turned on at full volume. Their sounds get mixed and the result is a cacophony of noises. Excited children scream with joy when their teams manage to win a kite war. They taunt the loser and challenge them to a rematch. As noon approaches, the brightness of the sun and the heat drives me back home. A good lunch and siesta prepares me for the second innings. At 5 pm, I resume my kite flying. This year was better than last one because I did not lose all my kites in the morning. Also the sharp string did not cut through my finger because I was wearing a protective sleeve around my index finger. The Indian kite strings are specially coated with glass pieces to make them ideal for kite wars. The torque of the kite pulls the string and it can potentially slice through the finger and these cuts are painful.
As the evening approaches, the parrots make their way back home and I can hear the troop of monkeys at a distance. We wind up our kite flying for the day and wait for the sun to set. As I survey the scene, I can see that there are kites entangled to trees, electricity wires and poles. The sun sets slowly and the sky turns Orange and then deep dark blue and finally black. In the southern hemisphere, the sky is full of stars. Sometimes, I would lay on the terrace at night and look at the stars. It is an amazing experience to see such a large magnitude of stars and their slow by perceptible movement across the sky. The night skies in the northern hemisphere has significantly less to offer.
Tonight is special. All those who spent the day flying kites now launch Chinese lanterns. Soon the sky is littered with a thousand colorful lanterns moving ever upward and away. Once they run out of candle power, they will fall off the sky. Overall, a wonderful experience. I always keep coming back here whenever I get a chance. As I fly back home, I cherish these memories and look forward to visit again next January.