Gender & Identity, Life

When my homeland Pakistan banned Basant, it banned much more than a simple holiday

How many love stories have been cut short?

It’s the 3rd of February. The sun is shining brighter than ever, but today its spotlight has been stolen by the colors encompassing the sky; every nook and corner my eyes land on, is more breathtakingly ravishing than the one before it. Kites of all colors are whizzing across the sky. People of all ages, genders, and religions are running around, bundles of strings gripped in their hands as they let go of all their worries.

I once talked to a relative of mine who lived in Lahore, and I still remember him telling me the story of how he and his wife fell in love. And surprisingly enough, it had a lot to do with Basant.

He was only 18 when his then-wife-to-be was 16 years of age. His in-laws were Sikhs, while he came from a family of Muslims. Both families, however, were strictly orthodox and, as it was made known to my relatives, wouldn’t ever agree to this union. So, young, wild, and creative as ever they both managed to get their fathers on the same rooftop, handed them balls of string, and let the two old men chat away.

The next day, she talked to her father about her wish to marry my relative.

Her father, first, scrunched his nose in disgust as he heard his name in all of its Muslim glory, but soon said, “Arshad? Oh, the son of Ibrahim Saab? The one who flies kites as smooth as butter? It’s a yes from me.”

Such was the power of flying kites, back in the day. Nothing could ever beat how strongly the people of Pakistan felt and still do feel towards this occasion.

I wish I could rewind time to when I was ten, because, sadly, such sights and stories cannot occur anymore.

Yes, this beautiful festival of kites, Basant, was banned by the government of my country in 2007. Simply put, they thought the metallic string used to fly these kites posed harm to human lives. Yes, people have succumbed to injuries caused by these strings, but it is not this beguiling festival we should be blaming.

It is the utter stupidity of those who refuse to be responsible with their kites, that has taken away the happiness, unity, and happy-go-luckiness of my fellow Pakistanis.

And it is not merely about a bunch of kites.

The pain in the hearts of all those who have had the opportunity to experience this celebration goes far beyond that. Because this wasn’t just any event, it was a jollification of love and oneness, a platform for the rich and poor to be equal to one another, a chance for people with spats to let their apologies flow over a nice cup of tea and some action in the air, but above all, it was the end of all discrimination.

Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Atheists, Zoroastrians, and Hindus would all get together to spread love in the air through pieces of cloth.

This ban not only took away a beautifully unifying event but put thousands out of work as well. People working in the cloth manufacturing industry were declared redundant by the companies they worked for because their kite-producing units were forced to shut down. My beautiful country and its people were deprived of both recreation and income.

Lahoris took to the streets to express their condemnation of this ban, but February 2018, sadly, will mark the eleventh anniversary of this half-witted ban.

The gravity of the situation has sadly still not been understood by the government of Pakistan, and with every passing year, we are losing more of our heritage.

The newer generation knows nothing about how capable a bunch of objects in the air is when it comes down to making people happy and how a piece of string would provide people with the time of their lives, not longer than eleven years ago.

They will never experience the joy of passing love letters enveloped in cloth and having them returned almost instantly, by the help of the cool winter breeze. Our government has taken away not only our past but dozens of our futures, too.

What once opened doors to compassion now puts celebrators behind bars.

And for this, the people of Pakistan will never forgive them.