A Sankranti Flashback

It was the rocky terrain between our colony and Banjara Hills. The battle lines were drawn. There were probably 5 or 6 on our side, ranging in age from 10 – 12. On the other side, three of them : Nagarjuna (son of ANR, the top hero of Telugu movie industry at that time), his sidekick and a dog. We had never seen Nagarjuna before, but knew of him through movie industry gossip. It was Sankranti season, which is also the kite flying season in Hyderabad.


Nothing stands out as more uniquely Hyderabadi than the “pathang” (kite flying) season. This typically starts off about a month before January 14th, which is Sankranti, the harvest festival. In the countryside it is celebrated with uniquely farmer centric festivities, but in the city it is always the kite flying! There would be thousands of kites of all different colors and sizes. Kids would be flying these from the roof tops and getting into friendly (and sometimes not-so friendly) kite-fights, where the goal is for you to cut the other guy’s “maanja” (thread coated with finely crushed glass). Everyone has his own closely guarded secret as to how they achieve this! Once the thread is cut the winner gloats by loudly screaming and cheering. The “loser” sadly and quietly sulks and winds up his “charkha” to come back with a new pathang/kite and maybe better maanja and/or technique. But the kite that was cut loose and is freely floating away is free for anyone to grab. This is the secondary fun aspect of the whole game. Those who catch these and use them in their own “fights” are experts in their own right and have a fan following as well.

Sankranti Kite Flying in today’s Hyderabad

This brings us back to the tense standoff on those rocks, during the Sankranti season circa 1972. Shockingly, it appeared like these guys from the Banjara Hills high society had come down to the middle class neighborhood to run after and catch some wayward kites! We, of course, were there purely to protect our turf! They were definitely out of place and encroached into our “ilaqa” (territory). Maybe his dad (ANR) did not have that conversation about the shadowy places in the rocks where Nagarjuna was not supposed to go to (obviously this was way before Mufasa had a similar conversation with Simba). We had so many questions : “These guys are stinking rich, why are they running after these cheap kites? They can probably buy hundreds or even thousands if they want to”. We were genuinely puzzled, but they were probably in it for the same adventure and thrills that we were seeking. Also, they were probably curious to see how the commoners lived and played.

The battlefield

The fight started, like all fights do, with a barrage of finely targeted insults at the appropriate family members (“yo mama is ..” type). Then someone from our side came up with a gem – “Your dad is having an affair with Vani Sree”! Vani Sree was the leading lady in many of ANR’s movies at that time. I was super impressed with the kid in our group who had this kind of general knowledge (“National Inquirer/ People Magazine” level gossip). I am not even sure if this “insult” ever made it all the way to the enemy side, but it did score a lot of points on our side, with everyone in agreement that it was a brilliant zinger! I am not sure who threw the first stone, but they started flying fast and furious. We outnumbered them 2 to 1, yet no one scored a hit! We heard them trying to sic the dog onto us (“Smoky” I believe his name was). In the end the whole thing fizzled out. We all ran out of steam and insults to throw. It definitely wasn’t the rocks. There were plenty of them. Luckily no one got hurt. The whole incident probably lasted less than 10 minutes. We all went back to our families and bragged about how we saved the colony from invading movie star kids!

It’s amazing that this is still in my memory after almost half a century! I have to see if any of my buddies who were there remember this incident. I am pretty sure that Nagarjuna (who is now a super star in his own right) thinks about the incident every year at Sankranti time 🤪. I can very well imagine who the heroes and villains are in his retelling of the incident.