Thursday, 26 January 2017

Shahjahanabad Shooting Diaries- In Search of KabootarBaaz


At Shahjahanabad, 26th Jan is celebrated with Kabootarbaazi competitions/contests/races. I had done a walk by Sohail Hashmi Sahab earlier at Turkman Gate and we had also been a witness to kabootarbaazi contests at Shahrukh Sahab’s house. I contacted Sohail Sahab and helpful as always, he gave me the number with a remark - “Unko bahut zor ka Islam hua hai (he has caught Islam), and has removed his mustache for beard', meaning that he has suddenly turned religious and after calling his number several times, I realized that he probably has also become allergic to mobile phones. I asked Sohail Sahab again for his address and reached Shahjahanabad. Near Kalan Masjid, I asked for Shahrukh Sahab 'Kabootarbaaz' and was directed to go to Gali Nanwa Teli nearby where Shahrukh Kabootarbaaz had his office. I decided to follow the locals’, asked a few more people for directions, (he seemed quite well known) and reached the desired office/karkhana of a much younger Shahrukh Handicraftswala! I asked him if he flies pigeons and he nodded his head, I gave my details and asked for his permission if I could shoot at his terrace. Also, asked about the other Shahrukh Sahab and found out that he has left kabootarbaazi also!

With Shahrukh was his friend/partner Omar who was more talkative of the two and also a kabootarbaaz. I said ‘MashAllah’ as a polite way of encouragement and he took offence, and admitted that Kabootarbaazi is a waste of time and money. His grandfather was a very well known Kabootarbaazi 'Ustad' and now his uncles do it (family hobby!).  It is seen as a bad habit (which is true to an extent).
At Shahjahanabad, kabootarbaaz are seen as non-serious good-for-nothings who have too much time to waste on the birds. They are also suspected as “non-serious Romeos” or flirts, as being on terrace for long duration gives them enough time to eye the beautiful girls of nearby homes. Many love affairs start and end on terraces of Shahjahanabad. 
I was on phone discussing the logistics, time etc. and then while walking down the bazaar I felt something on my backside. It was a big black dog which had tried to bite me. I kept walking and reached my cousin’s place where I checked to see that the dog had only grazed some skin and there was no blood thankfully, only some minor discomfort. My friends’ told me to get the dog vaccinated and check for some dangerous Sociological/ Sufi/poetic inclinations!

 Omar had told us to come early morning but our problem was that due to 26th Jan (Republic Day parade traffic restrictions) reaching Shahjahanabad was a struggle. Our Camera team decided to come via Metro, I decided to spend pre-26th night at Shahjahanabad. The prediction for rain on the Republic Day was also a worry for us.

On the morning of 26th we reached the desired place and called Omar, Shahrukh's phone was switched off. He took us to a house whose terrace was on the fifth/sixth floor and we had to make our way through narrow staircases and a room full of around 25-30 goats/sheep (in winters, animals are given a separate room, Shaahjahanabadi kindness!). Terrace had view of Jama Masjid as we tried to spot all the fellow kabootarbaaz, whistling at their pigeons with their crackers going off whenever any group of pigeons won. Omar told us that pigeons' scheduled time was 11am and will not come out before that. He had spoken to a few others who felt that the cameras would distract their pigeons and they may lose the race and thus had refused!
Under the grey,cloudy skies, we decided to interview Omar on camera. There were two young restless boys, Ali and Faisal (Ali with a drum, to whom we had to tell from time to time to keep it quiet) as he proudly shouted at others that he had people "filming" on his terrace.
Omar was enthusiastically sharing kabootarbaazi details until we finished and then (very cutely embarrassed) with concern he disclosed that his family is in the process of  fixing his rishta' (marriage).  If the girls' family see his YouTube video they may find him unsuitable and reject him for being a kabootarbaaz! I suggested  (unsolicited advice) to look for a girl within kabootarbaaz circle so she and her 'family' would understand his passion and also complimented him on his looks'.
   


We spotted a few policemen on a nearby rooftop waving at us to get down and stop filming. It was 26th Jan! Ali the youngest amongst us, started mocking at the policemen with his drum.

By that time it had started drizzling, we wrapped up with a promise from Omar for a sunny day shoot soon.

We ended our not-so-successful morning with breakfast at Shyam Sweets. 

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