about the contributors
Basant Festival (Jashn-e-Baharan)
An Urdu Story by Kausar Ali
Amir and Zeba were a brother and sister who lived in Lahore, the second largest city in Pakistan, often referred to as ‘the cultural capital of Pakistan’.
One day, when the brother and sister arrived home from school, Zeba asked her mother, ‘Do you know that Basant Festival is celebrated in February every year and everybody flies kites?’
‘Yes, Zeba,’ replied her mother. ‘It is also called Jashn-e-Baharan because this festival is a time in which we celebrate and welcome the coming of the spring season.’
Zeba was very excited after learning about Basant Festival. ‘Our teacher gave a lesson about the festival today,’ she continued. ‘She also showed us some very beautiful kites, but she warned us that if we want to fly a kite in the festival, we must not buy kite strings that are coated with glass, because if it rubs someone’s skin they will be very badly injured.’
‘But this string is good for cutting other peoples’ kite strings!’ exclaimed Amir, who was clearly very excited about the idea of kites doing battle high up in the sky over the city.
Amir’s mother looked at her son with a very stern expression on her face. ‘That is the reason why people should never use glass coated kite strings,’ she told her son. ‘These strings are dangerous and can make very deep cuts in the skin and people can get hurt.’
Amir agreed that it did sound very dangerous, but he was still excited about watching the kites doing battle high up in the sky. Then, remembering something he had learned at school that day, he said, ‘Today we had a lesson about traditional Urdu riddles that are written in the form of verse. I have written one here in my book. See if you can tell me the answer.’ And so the young boy read the riddle to his mother and sister…
‘The spring season is named after me
The sky is full of colours
The jingling sound of bangles everywhere
The shouts of ‘Bo Kata!’ everywhere
Who am I?’
‘Oh, that is an easy riddle,’ said his sister. ‘The answer is Basant! I know a riddle too. Tell me the answer if you can.’ And so Zeba told her riddle…
‘A huge round tray is full of pearls
It is stationed upside down above everyone’s head
This dish goes round and round
But none of the pearls drops out of it
Who am I?’
Amir thought about the riddle for some time before he had to admit defeat. ‘I don’t know the answer,’ he said in the end. ‘You tell me.’
Zeba was pleased because she felt very clever for knowing a riddle that her brother did not know. ‘It is the sky full of stars at night,’ she smiled. ‘It is a riddle that was written by a very famous poet and writer over seven hundred years ago. His name was Ameer Khusro. My teacher told me about him in class and that is where I learned the riddle.’
Amir agreed that it was a very good riddle even though it was very old. Zeba said, ‘The teacher also told us that Basant is a public holiday in Lahore and so our school will be closed!’
Amir was also very excited about this news. ‘That will be excellent!’ exclaimed the brother. ‘We will enjoy Basant Mela and kite flying all day!’
Then Zeba retrieved a leaflet from her school satchel to show her mother. ‘Our teacher gave each of us children a leaflet in class today so that we can learn about the Basant celebrations. Will you read it to us, mother?’
The mother agreed to read the leaflet to her children who were now both sitting at the kitchen table, both very excited about the upcoming celebrations…
Basant Mela is not only a kite-flying event but also a cultural festival consisting of traditional food, colourful dresses and bangles, and dancing and music. Yellow is the main colour of this festival as it depicts the blossoming spring flowers and the yellow mustard fields of Punjab (a province of Pakistan of which Lahore is the capital). The men wear yellow scarves and the ladies wear yellow, red, and golden clothes and put on bangles (gajras) made of fresh flowers.
The sky above Lahore is filled with colourful kites of various shapes and sizes. The people participate in kite-flying competitions and are familiar with the usual Basant vocabulary such as ‘Bo kata, Door, Pecha, Patang, Manja, and Guddi’.
This is a festival of colours, lights, and traditional food. Special dishes are prepared in huge pots called deig, and this food is served free in the shops and restaurants along the sides of the road. The festival is an important part of the city’s culture, and the people of Lahore take pride in Basant. There are other cities in which Basant is also celebrated, such as Faisalabad, Sialkot, Gujranwala, Jehlum, and Rawalpindi. But it is Lahore which made the festival so popular, not only in Pakistan but all over the world.
When she had finished reading the leaflet to her children, the mother agreed that it gave very good information about this special day. Zeba asked her mother if she could buy new yellow clothes for Basant and lots of colourful bangles to wear. ‘I will give some of the bangles as Basant presents to my friends,’ she promised.
The mother agreed but warned that the family must do all of their shopping at least a week before the festival as all of the shops and streets in Lahore become very crowded in the run-up to the celebrations.
Both children were very excited after learning so much about Basant, and they both found it very hard to concentrate on their schoolwork and chores over the following weeks. But, at long last, the big day arrived.
Lahore became very festive and noisy and the sky filled with colourful kites. There was music and dance everywhere and the aroma of traditional food was intoxicating. Amir heard shouts of ‘Bo Kata! Bo Kata!’ and ran with his friends to watch the kites fighting in the sky, some falling to the ground after losing the battle. Zeba took all of her bangles to give as presents to her friends and cousins. Then the children joined their parents and the rest of the family up on the rooftop so that they could all enjoy the spectacle of hundreds of multi-coloured kites filling the sky above their beloved city of Lahore. It was February, and the beautiful kites up in the sky heralded the coming of a new spring.