Festivity that is spring
I have often asked myself the question as to what makes living things go insanely happy when spring arrives. Flora bursts into a riot of green and other colours with a sympathetic response from the insect world, birds and animals begin voicing their mating calls with renewed energy and even the grouchiest of humans can be found humming a long forgotten tune. The answer to my curiosity lies perhaps in the link between what can be referred to as ‘moods’ and ‘environment’. Winters (notwithstanding the fact that this part of the year is my favourite) is grey and cold with short days and long nights frequently shrouded in clouds, mist, snow and sleet. It is a time when living things strive to conserve energy and stay warm. A part of the animal and plant world does this by sleeping or hibernating through the season. Then the sun emerges from behind its veil of grey to bathe the world in warm brilliance, revealing a dazzling blue sky with masses of thunderheads rising ominously and then dissipating. Nature awakens and sap begins to flow as the animal and plant kingdoms launch themselves into new life cycles. For those of us, who live away from the chaos of urban life, it is a window to gaze through and be grateful for the bees buzzing in and out of apple blossoms, for the yellow fluted Himalayan bulbuls engaged in mating rituals and darting flashes of colour as sunbirds move from bloom to bloom in search of nectar.
There was however once a time, when this season of joy was welcomed with a fanfare. Acres of yellow mustard flowers and appearance of leaf buds on the ‘Shisham’ triggered a wave of village ‘melas’ and believe it or not, a spate of weddings. The high point of these celebrations was the ‘Basant’, when thousands of brightly coloured kites filled the sky and roof tops in the old city were thronged with families out to have a good time. Then cases began to occur where kite string covered with the traditional ground glass (and known as ‘dor’) began to run across throats of motor bike riders, causing fatalities. Reports indicated that this was due to small electric motors that retrieved the thread at high speed, in the event of the kite having lost the battle in the sky with a rival. There were motor bikes in Lahore during the days of my childhood (although not in the numbers that we see today) and kites battled one another in exciting combat, but those were times when the loser reeled in the falling thread, hand over hand. This ‘dor’ must have touched ‘bike’ rider even then, but its speed was nonlethal. As young boys, we often intercepted it with our bare hands as it was being pulled in. We called this ‘dor lootna’ or ‘looting’. I am told that this is not possible anymore because of the speed with which this reeling-in is done, using technology. And so it was that a traditional festival was destroyed by callous human behaviour and an administration that found it easier to ban kite flying than to book perpetrators violating age old custom.
For gardening enthusiasts and nature lovers, spring was and remains a time of pure ecstasy. For those with means, it meant garden parties to showcase their horticultural endeavors, but for a vast majority of Lahoris, it was quality time spent with the family in the Lawrence Gardens. I am happy to report that the practice continues to this day.
One of my fondest memories of the season was the dahlias that adorned our home in Lahore. These were in such large quantities that every room was filled with them. My late father was responsible for this extravaganza, all the way from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), where he worked for an industrial group. I have yet to see flowers as large or so beautiful anywhere else.
Our family had another tradition to welcome spring. We would go to Tollington Market and buy as many caged birds as we could afford. These feathered friends would then be released away from the city in symbolic representation of the notion that birds and animals needed to be free. I am grateful to my Creator that this practice continues unabated and has now been adopted by my son and daughter in law.
I have spent much time sitting indoors writing this piece, while I can hear the trilling of a ‘tree pie’ (a large sized bird found in the hills surrounding Islamabad) in the trees outside. Perhaps it is her way of scolding me for sitting indoors on such a glorious day. I must therefore take leave for now and join my ‘friends’ in the garden to become part of the festivity that is spring.