It was the morning of August 15, 1947. India was awake to life and freedom. A bustling Old Delhi neighbourhood, still coming to terms with the end of the centuries-old Brtish rule, was struggling to express its elation.
With Jawaharlal Nehru’s ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech still ringing in his ears 23-year-old Chandni Chowk resident Gigraj Tiberewal walked to Red Fort.
Like everyone else.
“We were wondering what to do, when a friend had an idea. We rushed home, scribbled ‘Azadi’ on our kites, climbed to the highest terrace in the locality and did what we were so good at — kite flying,” Tiberewal, now 85 years old, smiles wistfully.
“I believe that is when the tradition of patangbaazi on Independence Day began.”
For most Dilliwallahs, kite flying, or patangbaazi is more than just a hobby. It’s more of a custom handed down from generation to generation. And for senior citizens like Tiberewal, it has a treasured historical charm.
“Patangbaazi has always been an articulation of joy in our country. Aren’t kites still flown on Basant Panchami and Raksha Bandhan? So how can we not fly kites on the happiest day in our country’s history,” asks Tushar Kanti Mukherjee (59).
In most parts of Old Delhi — the relatively modern pseudonym of the old Mughal capital of Shahjahanabad, also known as Walled City — kite flying is an early evening custom round the year.
“For some, family commitments or weather simply don’t matter,” said Sonu Goel (30), a businessman. “My friends and I make it a point to meet on the terrace every Saturday evening no matter what.”
For many, the patangbaazi culture also has a unique identity value.
“For us, Independence Day is not like the extended holiday it normally is for residents of posh South Delhi localities,” says Hira Jain (36).
But charm and tradition wane.
Owing to growing commercialisation in and around the Chandni Chowk area, patangbaazi seems to be on the decline.
“The number of residents who participate in the activity has decreased in the last five years,” says Ankit Gupta (24), an architect.
“People have shifted to posh localities in other parts of the city. The terraces where people used to crowd while flying kites have turned into storerooms for shops.”