Basant Festival in Sacramento, California
By Ras H. Siddiqui
It may not be a national holiday in South Asia but the advent of spring or Basant is certainly celebrated there in all of its yellow glory whether it is in Pakistan, Bangladesh or India.
The color yellow can be associated with the blooming fields of mustard which paint the plains from the Punjab all the way to Bengal. One of the many passions that this season excites is the flying of kites, even if one cannot differentiate between a Patang, Guddi or Tukkal kite, it is okay because Basant is all about having some fun. It also crosses across religious or ethnic lines in the region. And the place to be for this colorful 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 this writer, one of lifetime goals has been to visit the old parts of this remarkable city on the day of the Basant festival. If there was one cultural festival that we can 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. And they have been joined by Punjabis and other ethnic groups here including those who originate from across the Wagah border.
On a side note, no matter what Americans may have learnt via Khaled Hosseni’s bestselling novel, The Kite Runner, focusing on Afghanistan, the place to be for kite flying (during our days of youth) has remained the city of Lahore. Even though 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 “Makki di Roti” (Corn Roti) and “SarsonkaSaag” (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 organizations representing ethnic Pakistanis in the United State,s has been holding this BasantMela festival in California’s capital city in recent years. 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 ManjhaDor) was not allowed for safety reasons. But there was a whole lot else to do as fun for all ages was promised and delivered. So right off the bat the sponsors of this wonderful afternoon have to be thanked: Haveli Restaurant, We Do Designs (event décor and planning), Welcome Insurance (Javaid Akhtar), Shan Market, Accountax Solutions, Q’s Entertainment, All Season Tires, A1 Quality Tires and WorldMax TV (AftabJaved) were all instrumental in supporting this event.
Besides kite flying (thanks to Lahori Kites), there were prize drawings and quiz games, raffle winners arts and crafts, and activities for kids throughout the event (great job as stage emcee by Sohail DJ). 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 fashions and jewelry vendors along with others including a local Real Estate booth. But the food was the biggest attraction.
Desis and food generally have a very close relationship and Punjabis take that relationship to the next level. Haveli Restaurant provided the basic Naan and Karahi or Tawa Chicken along with Paan and a host of other staple foods. A1 Foods added Samosas, Mexican, Indian and Pakistani food, and some wonderful Jalebi desert (cooked fresh on site). There was also Kulfi ice cream for sale which was consumed with gusto by many attendees. And last but not least, Yony’s Roasted Corn did a brisk business selling corn on the cob topped by salt, lemon and cayenne pepper, a crowd favorite.
Last but not least the entertainment section included the Dhol, Rap by Zaki Syed (Desi Pride being one topic). Punjabi Hip Hop by SherozMazhar Chaudhry and PreeMayall (these guys were absolutely great) and last but not least our “unofficial” Chief Guest Timothy Todd Shea (http://cdrspakistan.org/) 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. And to top it all off he is the only American we know who sings DilDil Pakistan in a commendablemanner, and he did perform it here at this event to the delight of many. What a nice way to top off a BasantMela here in America!