Walking down market street for Pongal


It’s been raining non-stop for the last week. The streets are wet, and water puddles gently splash around people’s footwear.

My friend and I are walking down market street to shop for our harvest festival, Pongal, which will be celebrated on Sunday.

All shops on the street have makeshift stalls outside the main shop to cater to the many hundreds of people who will shop for this festival.

Tender plants of ginger and turmeric are neatly stacked in bunches of bright green, the yellow turmeric roots contrasting beautifully with the green of the leaves.

Fresh and green mango leaves are on sale. Beautiful sugarcane plants are stacked along the walls of most shops.

Most shops also sell pieces of sugarcane for those who want less.

The street is teeming with people, all looking for the perfect mud-pot or stainless steel pot to cook pongal in, on the day of the festival.

Bright colours everywhere – red apples and pomegranates, yellow bananas, golden mangoes.

The flower stalls are doing brisk business, and the heavenly smell of jasmine is in the air. Beautifully threaded garlands hang neatly in every stall. Full coconuts and banana leaves await new customers.

The excitement is palpable. My friend and I get caught up too, as we soak in the spirit of this beautiful festival of harvest.

We offer a quick ‘thank you’ to all the farmers, who toil so hard to bring food to our homes.

Happy Pongal everyone!

A Century-old tradition


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Today is Vishu, our New Year. The specialty of this celebration is the way we ring-in the New Year.

On new year’s eve, after the kids are asleep, elders in the family set-up an altar, whose centre-piece is a mirror. The mirror is decorated with a garland of flowers and a gold chain. Around the mirror are kept small bowls with raw rice, lentils and yellow-coloured fruits like lemons, mangoes, papaya and a yellowed cucumber. A seasonal yellow flower is also considered auspicious.

In addition to all these, old coins that have been in the family, crisp new currency notes and new coins are also kept at the altar.

In the morning, the oldest family member, walks with closed eyes and positions himself before the mirror and looks at himself in the mirror, with all the essentials in life like food and money, hoping that the new year will bring the family happiness and prosperity.

Each member of the family is brought to the altar, with their eyes closed and then asked to view themselves in the mirror.

Family elders give cash gifts to all others in the family. Then the whole family sits down to a sumptuous meal comprising more than 15 dishes spread out on a banana leaf.

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Last night, as we decorated the altar, I observed the old coins given to us by my parents-in-law. I was surprised to see that the coins were dated 1904, 1912, 1916, 1917 and 1918. 

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Wow, a century has passed. I wonder how many women have used these very same coins, to ring in the new year, over the last ten decades. Who were these women, what were they like? I will never know these things.

But I draw comfort from the fact that these traditions have outlived people and continue to bind us across time.

For my children, the excitement is more from the gifts they receive rather than from the traditions we follow.

But they watch us every year and when the time comes,  I am sure they will treasure these coins. Both for the allied memories of their childhood and to revel in the ancestral love that has been passed down through these coins.