East and West

“You know what, Mildred? I can’t wait for Kevin to leave for college. I mean, I love the kid, but to be honest, Rick and I haven’t had the house to ourselves in almost 20 years.”

“It’d be nice to be alone with each other again.”

“Oh, yeah,” Mildred agreed her mouth full of Julia’s fresh-baked blueberry muffin. “I get it, Jules. You and Kevin need some time off. The kids are grown up now, they have their own lives to take care of.”

“You two should go on a second honeymoon or some’n,” She added as an afterthought.

“What are you watching, Raj?”

“It’s this new American sitcom, Ma—Rick & Julia. Everyone in college is talking about it.”

“Ok. Here—drink this juice. Do you want anything to eat?” Mrs Patil asked as she cleared up Raj’s empty breakfast plate.

“Nah.”

“Alright. I’m just in the kitchen chatting with Geetha aunty. Let me know if you want anything.”

“Ok.”

“So… how’s it like having Raj back home?” Mrs Patil’s neighbour asked as she entered the kitchen.

“Oh, Geetha! It’s wonderful! I was so bored and Raj’s father doesn’t come home until dinner time—he’s always busy with his business. I was starting to feel depressed.”

“Oh, I wish Raj had a longer holiday,” she stopped chopping onions and turned to face Mrs. Geetha, “with him around, it’s like my life’s got purpose again.”

“I’m making his favourite biriyani today,” she announced without apparent reason her eyes beaming with joy.

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The new child

He listened as the midwife crooned words of encouragement. It was as if she was calming him instead, while his darling, moaning and shuffling about in gentle motions, braved on.

She was in pain, he could tell, but she’d given birth before. And she was managing far better than he had the previous four times put together.

About ten heavy breathing and a couple more shrieky minutes later, out plopped his new baby. With buttery legs, a mild mane, and eyes battling against the afternoon sun, his fifth treasure—the one that completed his farm—the jet black calf lay on the warm hay.

Yellow hats at a construction site - Unsplash.com

The yellow caps

a silent trancing in the ears
arms swinging to the tone
unchallenged my path ahead
and sleepy eyes that wander by

yellow hats bobbing beside
in blazing orange jackets
heavy-soled workers' shoes
and stained knee cap pants

marching all in a single file
heading towards the incomplete
labouring in the wintry breeze
for wages to drown the hunger rage

eyes filled with expectation
life devoid of all reputation
board faces and pale skins
and hearts full of wonderment

bottle of water swinging in hand
and as empty stomach urging on
walk soldiers defenders of homes
jobs to be done, for bills to be paid

strolling along next to me
close enough, not enough to smear
anger or even a trace of reality
for their's fulfilment in construction

Image source: Unsplash.

Past

Letter from son to father about the progress of his farm, State Capitol of Texas, Austin
Letter from son to father about the progress of his farm, Texas State Capitol in Austin

Proof of days gone by

handcrafted stories of yore

kennelled trinkets now

Because that’s how it’s always done

I’ve seen my share of dictionary definitions, but so far, I haven’t found a single resource that equates traditions with obsessive compulsiveness.

Let’s back up a little.

Today’s a special day where I live. It’s the first day of the Tamil new year, and this means people wake up at 4 am and make “pongal.” It’s a rice-based porridge made in two flavours: savoury and sweet.

Today’s better known as the rice farmer’s festival, because its purpose is to thank the sun god for their year-long kindness to the crops and to wish for the same goodness in the upcoming year.

Farmers and their families celebrate this day with abundant gusto, dedicating today, the first day of the new year, to the sun, and tomorrow, the second day, to the livestock that labour through the fields year round. They deep-clean and decorate their homes, and serve pongal to the gods and cattle as a sign of their appreciation. They then gather round as family, wishing each other a good year ahead, and gobble up pongal all day.

Now that’s a nice picture: Thanksgiving for farmers.

However, it evolved into a generic Tamil festival which led people to adopt the habit of porridge-making in their own homes. What happens when townsfolk and ultra-urban dwellers celebrate Pongal? Well, they wake up early and make both kinds of pongal, serve it to the gods that reside in the kennels they’d built in their houses, and then devour porridge all day.

You could say it’s not too different from what the farmers do—except the underline purpose and the divinity associated with thanking nature for a prosperous crop-yielding year has depreciated altogether.

And so now, every year on this day, we make a big deal of making pongal early in the morning. And if you’re in a village where everyone wakes up at 4 am every day, it’s rather a competition to see who serves porridge to the gods first. If the auspicious time begins at 10:30 am, they try and finish cooking well ahead so they can pray to the gods as soon the time’s right.

That’s just one aspect of the Pongal festival. Another is the custom of making pots-full of both flavours even if it’s too much for a family of three. Farmers live in extended families—they have children, nieces, nephews, and cows to feed.

In the city though, it’s just the parents and a child or two. Since everyone in the neighbourhood also prepares the same pongal, there’s often too much to give around to others.

Regardless of making this mistake every year, and feeling bloated, people repeat it again and again—just because making pongal on this day is a tradition you shouldn’t skip.

Now if that isn’t obsessive compulsiveness, I’m not sure what is.