January is all sorts of lovely, here in Bangalore. Ribbons of mist lift the cover off steel-gray mornings, exposing dancing slabs of sunlight. The song of the cuckoos and the squawking of parakeets, the hissing of idli-bearing pressure cookers and the frothing up of coffees, all providing warmth against the nip in the air. And to top it all, festival season kicking off with Sankranti, decreeing an order of freshness about everything. Newly harvested grains, lentils, sugarcane, ash gourd, pumpkin, Indian jujube, mango fronds and coconuts fill the markets. Bright orange and yellow chrysanthemums carpet the gardens like little Suns unto their own merit. But the best draw is the starchy, almost tinny aroma — the sogadu — of avarekaayi, hyacinth beans.
Preparations for Sankranti are typically on for a few weeks, as we hull a bunch of roasted groundnuts, their papery skins swirling around us like fairy dust; chop de-skinned, dried coconuts into cushy little squares; jaggery (bella) into tiny cubes; and mix it all up with roasted sesame seeds (ellu), for the ellu bella — a sort of healthy trail mix, packed in little sachets and shared with friends and family as a token of love, along with figurines of ducks and deer, bananas and pineapples, crafted by pouring molten sugar into wooden molds. There’s also a bunch of laddoos and chikkis made out of roasted til and jaggery.
The sights, smells and the overall essence of the harvest festival are delightful: Rangoli designs adorning front yards, depicting motifs of the harvest season, like pots, sugarcane plants, and the Sun. Mango fronds hung above doors, interspersed with flower garlands. The peppery heat and hints of hing in the Suggi — Khara Pongal, and the sweet notes of raisin-speckled, cardamom-infused Sweet Pongal. The tang of jujubes, the juicy fibrousness of sugarcane chunks. The kaleidoscopic splendor of kites fluttering against spotless blue skies. The simplicity of a thought like — ellu bella thindu, olle maathaadi — which translates, as a perfect metaphor for our times, as — eat ellu bella, and speak of good things.
The festive spread in our homes is reflective of a happy mix of all the cultures we share. Happy Sankranti from the Tadka kitchens!