We will spread the colours of Basant thousands of miles away from home

Published: May 11, 2017

Desis and food generally have a very close relationship and Punjabis take that relationship to the next level. PHOTO: RAS SIDDIQUI

It may not be a national holiday in South Asia, but the advent of Basant (spring) is certainly celebrated there in all its yellow glory, whether it is in Pakistan, Bangladesh or India. The colour yellow can be associated with the blooming fields of mustard which paint the plains from Punjab all the way to Bengal.

One of the many passions that this season excites is kite flying. Even if one cannot differentiate between a patangguddi or tukkal (types of kites) kite, it is okay because Basant is all about enjoying yourself. It also passes any religious and ethnic lines in the region, making it the perfect blend of spirit and fun. The place to be for this colourful event has historically been the city of Lahore, the heart of Pakistan.

They say that if one has never seen Lahore, one has not lived. For many outsiders like me, one of our lifetime goals consist of visiting the old parts of this remarkable city during Basant. If there was ever a cultural festival that we could easily share with our American-born kids, it is this one. And that thought has thankfully crossed many minds amongst Pakistanis living here in America, as this event seems to be catching on in some North American cities. They have been joined by Punjabis and other ethnic groups here including those who originate from across the Wagah border.

On a side note, regardless of what Americans may have learnt via Khaled Hosseni’s bestselling novel, The Kite Runner that focuses on Afghanistan, the place to be for kite flying (during our days of youth) has remained Lahore. However, it is sad to report that due to the actions of a few, the festival is mostly celebrated without kites today. Basant is as Punjabi as makkai ki roti (corn bread) and sarson ka saag (mustard greens) served with butter or ghee.  But let us now return to Sacramento, California where this festival was held.

The Pakistani American Association of Sacramento, one of the oldest organisations representing ethnic Pakistanis in the United States (US), has been organising the Basant festival in California’s capital city. But this one, held on April 23, 2017 at the North Natomas Regional Park was possibly the best one so far. While kite flying was encouraged here, kite fighting with manjha dor (abrasive string used for fighter kites) was not allowed for safety reasons, but there was a whole lot else to do, as fun for all ages was promised and delivered.

Besides kite flying, there were prize drawings, quiz games, raffle winners, arts and crafts, and activities for kids throughout the event. DJ Sohail did a great job as the stage emcee.

There was also a booth set up by The Citizens Foundation (TCF-Sacramento chapter) which was visited by many people. TCF is doing great work towards educating children and youth in Pakistan, and it was good to see them active here. There were also many Pakistani-Indian fashion and jewellery vendors along with others, including a local real estate booth. Food, however, was the biggest attraction.

Desis and food generally have a very close relationship and Punjabis take that relationship to the next level. Haveli Restaurant was selling their famous basic naan, karahi (meat curry) and tawa chicken, along with paan (betel leaves) and a host of other staple foods. A1 Foods brought samosas, Mexican, Indian and Pakistani food, and some wonderful jalebis which were being cooked fresh on site. There was also kulfi for sale which was consumed with gusto by many attendees. Lastly, Yony’s Roasted Corn did a brisk business selling corn on the cob topped with salt, lemon and cayenne pepper, which is a crowd favourite.

The entertainment section included the dhol, a rap by Zaki Syed (desi pride being one topic), and Punjabi hip hop by Sheroz Mazhar Chaudhry and Pree Mayall (these guys were absolutely great).

Last but not least, our “unofficial” chief guest was Timothy Todd Shea who joined us here along with his Pakistani wife Saima. Todd is an American who has adopted Pakistan; or to be more accurate, Pakistan has adopted him. He has helped our country of origin during earthquakes and floods, and his disaster relief efforts have received wide recognition.

To top it all off, he is the only American we know who sings Dil Dil Pakistan in a superb manner, and he did perform at this event to the delight of many. What a nice way to top off the Basant festival here in America!

All photos: Ras H Siddiqui

Ras Siddiqui

Ras Siddiqui

The author writes from Sacramento, California. He has written on Pakistani/South Asian and Muslim community issues in America for over 25 years.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.