Greetings from Gujarat. I’m in Ahmedabad – which, to be honest, I’d planned to transit and then I figured I needed a break after 10 hours of bone-rattling bus travel before I did a successive 10 hours by train. So here I am in a place that is, as of late, more infamous than famous for its recent headlines: an earthquake that was estimated to have killed 20,000 in January 2001 and religious violence in 2002.
It’s not such a bad place and it’s not exactly a main stop on the tourist line so I’m taking a breather on that front.
Legend has it that the city’s founder picked this spot for what is now a fairly successful industrial city after seeing a hare chasing a dog. Yes, I wrote that right. Impressed by the courage of the rabbit, he figured it was fertile land to start an enterprising city. I saw some of that courage at play last night as I got roped into a midnight game of cricket. My cricket terms aren’t very accurate but I’ll describe the field this way: home plate (I think that’s the wicket, no?) and the infield were in a side alley while the outfield was a busy three-way intersection. The guys didn’t seem to have much fear of playing ground balls as they dodged rickshaws, bikes and cars.
While cricket is overwhelmingly popular here (note to self: learn cricket), Gujarat and particularly Ahmedabad is crazy for kites. Seriously. While western Asia has a thing for kite flying (see The Kite Runner), this is its capital. Now, don’t be caught thinking that it’s all beautiful serenity in the skies. No, kite fliers here are out for blood. Around January 14th the city celebrates a kite festival where thousands and thousands of people engage in aerial combat with their kites; a sort of demolition derby made possible by glass-encrusted strings. Cut the other guy’s kite down and move on to face another foe. The first thing I saw when I opened my window here in town was a little girl of about five practicing with a little kite in the alley behind my hotel. Throughout the day I’ve seen kids standing on their balconies jerking kite strings, making their charges dance over the skyline. They start’em early here.