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!

Vibrant traditions


My husband and I are walking down a crowded street in Bengaluru, India. It is late in the afternoon, and the sun’s rays form net-like patterns on the pavement and the road.

Hundreds of small shops line both sides of the street. The shopkeepers and street hawkers are doing brisk business.

We need to stock up on cotton wicks (for our lamps), incense sticks, and a few other items. There are four shops that cater to our needs. They are all adjacent to each other, for they know that if we do not get what we want from the first shop, we will head to the next.

All four shopkeepers nod, and welcome us enthusiastically. We stop at the first shop. As I place my order, I am transfixed by the display of turmeric powder and kumkum (the red powder used for the Bindis that Indian women wear on their foreheads).

Art and Science are both at work here. The shopkeeper has painstakingly created mounds of these powders, by compacting them. They look so vibrant and colourful. The shopkeeper has planned this with precision. Just the right amount of powder to maintain the balance and prevent it from collapsing all around.

I ask him if I can take pictures. He obliges. I ask him, how he manages to take out powder from these mounds, if a customer wants to buy some!

He shows me how; I watch with bated breath. He does it with the ease of a seasoned professional. This is his turf and he smiles at my surprised look.

He packs our wicks and incense sticks. Deep from the recesses of his shop, a little boy comes running out. Presumably his son.

Family businesses that have been around for generations, carrying on the traditions of their forefathers. Selling simple, everyday things with so much creativity and beauty.

Celebrating Pongal


Our home is usually bathed in sunlight in the afternoons, from 2 pm to around 6 pm. However, come January and we receive sunlight for longer, till about 7 pm in the evening. From January, the sun’s light is like molten gold, lighting up our home and raising our spirits.

Barely two weeks after we ring in the new year, it is time to celebrate the festival of ‘Pongal’. This festival is quite significant for many reasons.  The festival is also known by the name of Makar Sankranti, which signifies the day each year, on which the sun enters the zodiac of Capricorn, and transitions from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere.

This is also the harvest festival in India, when farmers harvest rice and sugarcane, and people express their gratitude to the Sun, to farmers  and to cattle, who are all very important members in the value chain that brings food to every home.

In the Tamil language, the word Pongal, in addition to being the name of the festival, also refers to the name of a South Indian delicacy (both salt and sweet), and also refers to the act of milk ‘bubbling over’.

At home, just like we do every year, I mount two bronze pots on the gas stove; pots that were given to me by my mother, when I got married.

I tie baby turmeric and ginger plants around the neck of each pot. I decorate the pots with rice flour.

I decorate my foyer with a traditional rice kolam, making drawings of pots, sugarcane and the rangoli.

I get started with the cooking of both the sweet and salt varieties of Pongal. The smell of jaggery, ghee and milk waft around the kitchen.

When the milk starts boiling over, I call my husband and kids. We all shout, “Pongalo Pongal”. We wish each other and all our friends prosperity and happiness.

We sit down to a yummy breakfast, and wash it down with filter coffee. 
My children participate with gusto. Hopefully, they will remember the aroma of pongal and retain these memories, and carry forward our age-old traditions with their children.