Tamil New Year amid the pandemic: Simple meals, and virtual greetings

Bonding over food  

It all begins by collecting the star ingredient — neem flowers — that will go into a sweet pachadi on the big day. People spread a cloth beneath a neem tree in their neighbourhood the previous day, waiting for the delicate flowers to drop into it. A handful of the flowers will be fried in ghee and sprinkled atop a sticky, brown concoction of jaggery and sour mango simmered until you cannot tell them apart. Veppam poo pachadi, the special dish for Tamil New Year lunch, stands for how life can be sweet, but also bitter at times, and one should accept it for what it is.

“This year too, I plan to make the pachadi; I got the flowers from a tree nearby,” says 92-year-old Kamakshi Subramaniyan, who lives alone in Besant Nagar. “I have the other ingredients thankfully,” she adds. Usually, the day is busy: an elaborate lunch with vada and payasam, visits to places of worship, and families getting together. “But this year, I’m going to have to make do with oats porridge instead of payasam,” laughs Kamakshi.

Tamil New Year amid the pandemic: Simple meals, and virtual greetings

She recalls the Tamil New Year lunch she usually has: “There’s a vada that we make with three different types of dals, rice, sambar, rasam, appalam, a sweet poli...” The household smells and feels festive: those celebrating draw kolam at the entrance of their household early in the morning, not to mention the thoranam made of strung mango leaves at the front door. “It is going to be a different New Year this time,” says Kamakshi. “I will have all my relatives call me on the phone through the day,” she adds. It is something she looks forward to.

“The Tamil New Year lunch comprises various dishes that have all the six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent,” says cookbook author Mallika Badrinath. This year though, she says she plans to tweak the meal according to ingredients available. “A neighbour shared a mango with me; it is a mix of sweet and sour, so that takes care of two of the six tastes,” she says, adding that her friends also plan to make a one-pot kuzhambu that has several vegetables thrown in to achieve the six tastes, such as bitter gourd, drumstick, and even gooseberry. “They will add sambar powder to it,” she says. For her, the day will comprise uploading a food video on her YouTube channel. “I do them with my husband, and we shoot and edit at home,” she adds.

Rukmani Sivakumar, a music teacher in Poonamallee, has never been more thankful for the little things in life, than today. “A vegetable seller brought some lovely mangoes home the other day,” she says. She was thrilled, for mango forms an essential part of the festive meal. “I’m taking online classes, and will do so today as well,” she says, adding that New Year greetings are all going to be virtual.

“Since all of us are at home, we plan to have a nice meal together, cooked with whatever ingredients we have at home,” she says. “This is the best thing about this New Year: the whole family is under one roof.”

A new beginning
  • In most parts of Bengal, it has been a tradition for shops to invite their clients on Poila Baisakh and gift them a box of sweets and the new year’s calendar. It is the day when shop keepers start their new business ledgers, called haal khata. Most clients, as a goodwill gesture, then deposit a sum that can later adjusted against something that they buy. For more than three decades now, 62-year-old Tanuja Chatterjee has been visiting the shops in her neighbourhood of Belgharia to collect her annual gift, enjoy a glass of mango sherbet and vanilla ice cream and catch up with others from the locality. Everyone is dressed in new clothes. This year Tanuja had her heart set on a particular daffodil yellow Dhakai sari. But COVID-19 changed all her plans. On the plus side, her family of three is home. “We will clean the house and do a puja,” she says. This is also the day when families get together and the younger lot touch the elders’ feet and ask for blessings. But this year everything will have to be done over phone.” The usually elaborate festive menu at her place has shrunk this year. It’s normally shorshe elish (hilsa in mustard), chicken curry and cholar dal served with pulao and fluffy luchis. Followed by dessert: mishti doi and chaler payesh. This time it’s chicken, rice and sweets. “We don’t want to be lavish especially at a time like now,” says Tanuja - Priyadarshini Paitandy
  • It was the first time in over five decades that Gurmeet Kolhi could not visit the Gurdwara for Baisakhi celebrations. A resident of Visakhapatnam, Gurmeet usually spends the day with her family at the Gurudwara attending prayers and serving people during the langar. However, amid the lockdown, celebrations were toned down at the Kolhi residence as they prayed at home and replaced the traditional feast with a homemade lunch. “Being a social worker, I am aware of the situation of homeless and vulnerable people. So we decided not to have a feast for Baisakhi. We made some sweets and caught up with our relatives over video calls,” says Gurmeet. The three-days of Baisakhi festivities have been moved online by the Gurudwara Sadh Sangat in Visakhapatnam. Every evening several families in the city get together and attend kirtans that are live-streamed by the gurdwara. “It is hard adjusting to virtual praying and festivities but that is what humanity needs the most right now,” she says - Aishwarya Upadhye
  • For those who cannot create traditional Bengali New Year feasts at home, restaurants are stepping in. Chennai’s The Bayleaf is offering a menu that comprises tikkis made of posto (poppy), ladies finger cooked with mustard, in addition to bhetki, among others. There is the traditional chicken biryani and kosha murgi as well. There is a 10% discount to those who pre-order 24 hours in advance. The menu, however, is only available for takeaway from the T Nagar restaurant, and payments must be made in advance via Google Pay or bank transfer. Contact 9840998307.
  • TP Sreenivasan, a resident of Thiruvananthapuram, has never missed celebrating Vishu even when he was posted in capitals around the globe. “So whether it be in Kenya, Burma, Japan, Fiji or US, my wife, Lekha Sreenivasan, and I have made it a point to celebrate the festival in whatever way we could. Arranging the ‘kani’, which is supposed to be auspicious, was mandatory. Since Vishu, like Onam, is also a harvest festival, the kani is a kind of thanksgiving for a good harvest. It comprises Golden Laburnum, seasonal fruits and vegetables but certain vegetables like the kani vellari (a kind of golden-yellow cucumber) are a must. So are raw mangoes and jackfruit. We would also make do with a yellow flower and whatever vegetables were available. So in most places, a kani kit would be available and we would use that if necessary. This year also we will arrange a kani consisting of laburnum, vegetables such as cucumber and pumpkin and fruits like mango, jackfruit, a mirror, currency notes and gold. However, will miss our two sons and their families. The eldest is in New York and the youngest in Dubai and so we are worried about them. We will wish them and have a quiet lunch at home,” says the 75-year-old former diplomat and author - Saraswathy Nagarajan

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Printable version | May 19, 2021 2:22:28 AM |

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