With hyper active markets offering the consumer a glittery Sankranti, the writer walks into bazaar haunted by sepia tone memories

“Why are we getting a holiday a day before the festival?! The almanac says Sankranti is on January 15.” “Just celebrate it on the day you’ve been given a holiday,” said the stoic HR voice.

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From good old days of Social Studies, Makara Sankranti is known as a harvest festival, celebrated in every state of India. Every region, organic to its surroundings comes with its own traditions and practises. The sun changes his direction, it is the arrival of spring, has rich cultural significance among others. At home, there was always a special kootu with the fresh produce of the season – the fragrant avare bean, red pumpkin, sweet potato, and groundnuts. Mothers and grandmothers would pick up fresh jaggery, til and copra and labour with love over the most amazing ellu and pack it in large containers to give ‘everyone’. Huge vessels of sweet pongal with new rice and jaggery would be made for all. But now the market’s taken over. It has stepped up our desires.

It’s been a while now, our sense of egalitarianism the way our text books taught is absent in the world we live, and the market has never failed to rise to the occasion. The consumer, like the ever hungry Bakasura, celebrates his gluttony with every opportunity. However this is a rare case, the marketer and consumer both swell in their excesses. There are discount sales, and attractive deals. In case you want to try different cuisines, with the sure touch of ‘tradition’ and ‘authenticity’, there’s the special Gujarati, Rajasthani and Punjabi festival thalis at festive rates. If you swear by your South Indian genes and want to have a south Indian meal, there’s that too with haalubaayi and pongal. To stoke those fires of idealism in you, buy a handloom sari, and get free organic ellu. There’s special holige at Subbamana angadi, and the neighbourhood shop is selling plastic torana and rangoli sticker as well. The markets are extremely innovative and full of sparkling new packages for the customer who loves it. They are now organising kite festivals and ox races, all for a price.

Nature never misses a beat, it turns up on time – the hibiscus is still the glorious red, the marigold continues to ooze orange, and the sun just got a bit warmer with Sankranti. But in our AC cool apartment complexes, choc-a-bloc with humans, air fresheners are convenient. So we hardly see the roses bloom and neither do we stop to smell them.

“Sankranti always symbolised happiness, and contentment without any relation to money and buying power,” says Prof. N. Manu Chakravarthy. This writer and critic recalls how the ingredients that went into the celebration of this festival were simple things like ellu-bella and kabbu (sugarcane). “The specialty of this festival was in its commonality. With corporate materialism becoming a significant part of the fabric of our lives, distinctions between how the rich celebrate it and the poor can no longer celebrate it have been introduced. The true democratic spirit of commonness that we grew up is missing,” he observes.

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With growing up, my experience of Sankranti has become fragmented. The markets are attractive, but memories haunt you for their simplicity and joy. There was happiness in togetherness, now, there is no common holiday either. Anyway, whether it is Sankranti or not, since you have a holiday watch a film, go to the spa, and have dinner at the new restaurant you’ve been waiting to go to. While uncles and aunts gather to celebrate Sankranti lamenting how their sons and daughters couldn’t make it, I and others like me spend the day at office. As I walk into home late in the evening, I can hear the microwave being switched on – amma is heating pongal for me.