Tag Archives: unity

Of Sesame and Jaggery, A Friendly Tilgool

Arriving in a new country can burden a person with a new set of expectations. The burden of assimilating in a new culture, while maintaining old traditions comes to mind. As I began this acculturation while raising my family, I found myself trying to balance – fostering our age-old cultural traditions while shielding my children from cultural conflict. That forced me to reflect on the purpose of traditions that we blindly follow, and the different socio-political context where we now practice them. I wanted to pay attention to the pride that we felt in celebrating our beloved festivals in this foreign land. It can be hard to recreate the atmosphere, sights, and smells associated with a festival when the neighboring community does not partake in the tradition. We had to sparingly choose meaningful traditions without compromising fun.

We routinely celebrated Diwali and Ganesh Chaturthi at home, to which we added the festival of Makar Sankranti. This special holiday marks the transition of the Sun into Capricorn (Makar) on its celestial path. It generally falls on January 14th each year and was celebrated at my parents’ home with gusto. The nuances of how it is celebrated dates back hundreds of years, when farmers exchanged their crops with neighbors in the spirit of sharing and committing to friendship.

Kalpana’s grandchildren celebrating Makar Sankranti

In the Indian state of Maharashtra, sugarcane, garbanzo beans, carrots, and other crops are harvested in the winter months. Jaggery made from sugarcane is used abundantly in a variety of treats. During my childhood, on the day of Makar Sankranti, I remember filling small clay pots with a piece of sugarcane, a carrot, a few unshelled garbanzo beans, and a sweet ball-shaped ladoo made with sesame seeds and jaggery. I would then visit my friends in the neighborhood to trade these pots with them while saying, “Tilgool ghya ani goad bola,” (‘Accept these sweets and utter sweet words.’) The underlying thought is to forgive and forget the past ill-feelings, resolve conflicts, speak sweetly and remain friends. At that time, it just seemed like a good past time, but as I reflect on it, I think it is a very sweet tradition that reminds us to look beyond trivial quarrels and continue to build those bonds of friendship.

Replicating this tradition in the US presented multiple challenges, so I adopted another tradition, one I grew up with, of inviting female friends to a Haldi-kumkum (turmeric and vermillion) gathering. It was much like a high tea party. Along with tea and snacks, each woman received haldi-kumkum, a flower, tilgool ladoo, a sugar crystal candy made with sesame seed, and a gift. This gift was referred to as “a loot”. Traditionally, back home, the loot would be bangles, combs, bindis, or kitchen tools. In the US, the loot would be kitchen towels, a set of bowls, or similar items, but always included sharing the special significance of tilgool with my friends. My daughter and I enjoyed this gathering year after year.

In Gujarat where I grew up, the local Gujarati community’s tradition is to fly kites on Sankranti. To prepare for this day, children and adults would strengthen their kite’s strings with home-made starch to participate in a “Kite War”! A strong string can defend their own kite while attacking someone else’s as kites soar and glide in the sky from every direction. Early morning, families would gather on terraces, streets, and parks to launch their kites. The skies dotted with kites, the jubilant, full-throated repetitive roar of “eh kattaaaa” (cut!), would echo throughout the neighborhood. As this innocent, triumphant cry echoed all around, kids looking for free-falling kites would dash madly to grab them. Nothing could stop them from invading other people’s homes, gardens, and trees to get their freebies. Even today I remember this day with nostalgia and long to return to my childhood.

My choice to celebrate Makar Sankranti stems from the fact that humans have a natural tendency to belong, to share, to bond with others. The need was there when farmers shared their crops with each other nurturing solidarity; that demand is even stronger today, with our country bitterly divided from the lack of understanding of different cultures creating fault lines within our humanity. When these faults are under stress, seismic waves of doubts and clashes within communities produce fear and animosity. Sankranti can relieve that stress to a degree.

Pondering over my haldi-kumkum gatherings, I wish I had expanded my guest list to include non-Indian friends to share our culture, customs, and traditions. I would have done my small part to find common ground between cultures, and nurture unity among humans. We could belong to a world living under one sky traveling without boundaries, stealing each other’s kites while cheering the loot shared and received. It is not difficult to imagine the change a friendly tilgool can make.

There is a saying in my mother tongue Marathi:  If you have just one sesame seed, share it with seven others. It’s the characteristic of the sesame seed to create warmth in one’s body when consumed. On this upcoming Makar Sankranti, let’s share tilgool, and extend a warm hand of friendship.

Kalpana Gokhale is a retired Cupertino Union School District teacher. She enjoys being a grandmother to her four grandchildren, cooking their favorite foods, playing with them, while she continues to read and write for her personal growth.

What was 2020 About?

I struggled with 2020. What was it all about? All over the world this year people weren’t just fighting COVID-19 and lack of freedom, but were also standing up against violence and discrimination.

The year 2020 has been the first of many things:

  • The first time we experienced lockdowns and felt an urgency to grab every wet wipe in sight.
  • The first time people spent their holidays without family.
  • The first time people worked and studied from home, where the first twenty minutes of every Zoom interaction were spent discussing poor connections, muted microphones, and turned off cameras.
  • Someone’s first graduation or first year in school.
  • Someone’s first day at work and someone’s last.

All these firsts occurred so naturally that we became increasingly comfortable in them and they became our seconds, thirds, and constants. Most importantly, however, this year has been a space of growth for people, not just individually but as a community – something that perhaps a fast-paced, capitalistic society might’ve prevented in the past.

We experienced large movements all around the world, people came out to fight for each other and stand by each other. Black Lives Matter, Dalit Lives Matter, and Muslim Lives Matter were three such movements that were instigated by atrocities committed against these minorities in America and India. 

These movements highlighted that people are born human. It’s ironic that the biggest divides are made by people. We divide the day with time, divide people with everything we possibly could, and yet, believe that the solution to atrocities that occur from such divide is to further divide a community that is already disintegrating.

For once, in perhaps a long time, Black people were not alone in fighting their own battles against institutionalized oppression and racism. Teenagers and senior citizens walked on the streets to empower and protect a future that should be built on equality, regardless of skin color. But the BLM movement isn’t a trend, it didn’t ask people to post a picture once or twice on Instagram with captions like “Black Out Tuesday” and call it a day.

Instead, it created a space that supported black-owned businesses. It gave a platform for students and employees who were discriminated against in the workplace because of the color of their skin. It united people, as the privileged stood with black people and worked as allies. While all these events are a change in the positive direction, this movement isn’t close to ending. It has just begun. 

India also dealt with violence and inequality against minorities this year. In Hathras, Uttar Pradesh, a 19-year-old woman was raped by four men and her corpse was burned by the police while her mother cried in protest. The woman was of the Dalit caste (which is the “lowest”) while the rapists were from the Thakur caste (the “highest”). 

Image from Wikimedia Commons

To add to this, India’s nationalist government wanted Hindutva to prevail as the dominant (and only) religion. The government was and is vehemently against people who identify as Muslim. From crass WhatsApp jokes that highlight the ingrained discrimination against Muslims in India, to the police and government using violence against Muslim people on the streets, the divide and inequality reached a high this year. 

These violent crimes against Muslim and Dalit people caused rage all over the country (as it should). Caste-ism, sexism, and religious discrimination reared their ugly heads and Indians came out in hoards to globally speak out against it. Calls for equality were heard as thousands of protests were held to fight against the violence these minorities face. 

It irked me to say Muslim People, Hindu People, Dalit people, Black people. It irked me because it has come to a world where people are defined more by a part of their whole identity and less as just people. Rather than giving equal weight to ‘Dalit’ and ‘people’, we have begun to stress on the former and neglect the latter. It irks me because we take humanity away from humans. This year, however, it irked the whole world. These movements, these calls for equality forced people to stand up for each other. There is unrest still, there is discomfort, but what I learned this year is that we are tirelessly hopeful beings, even when we ourselves don’t see it. 

So while 2020 had some of the worst to give, the best part of it has been the people living in it. 

Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person. 

Saath Do: The Positive Anthem We Need

Amid the coronavirus outbreak, it’s crucial to stay connected and stay positive. The world has experienced a spike in fear and post-isolation gloom, which makes digital entertainment all the more important during these difficult times. That’s precisely what India’s music industry is aiming for, with the release of a recent music video, ‘Saath Do’. 

This empowering song is the concoction of music director Bappa Lahiri, lyricist Sameer Anjaan, playback singer Shaan, and singer Anushradha Palakurthi. Against the backdrop of a soulful piano medley, Shaan and Anushradha Palakurthi sing about how we can emerge from an international pandemic by forging bonds with others and giving back to our communities. The very name of the song implies that we must give our support to coronavirus victims and communities in need. Zee Music describes the song’s purpose as a request to join hands and face common challenges, chin-up, with faith and in unity. For daylight is only a few steps away. Saath Do!” 

While the lyrics alone are powerful, the music video truly packs a punch. This video features footage from all over the world, from Indian gurdwaras to the coasts of Europe to homes in China. Rather than emphasize the dangers of the coronavirus, the video illustrates the best of humanity that has emerged amid this outbreak. One clip provides a glimpse of law enforcement aiding a homeless man on the street. Another heartwarming segment presents a young man in a mask feeding a goat. “Saath Do” exudes nothing but positivity and hope for the future. The footage from different parts of the world is a small reminder that love knows no boundaries nor borders, and we are not alone in fighting this virus. 

This isn’t the end of the road for ‘Saath Do’, however. Rather, its producers hope to reach a wider audience. When asked about his plans with the song, Bappa Lahiri mentioned, “ “Despite being stationed in different countries, we have all come together for the track. Now, I will request celebrities to feature in the video.” Although there has been no official update on celebrity involvement with this song, we can only imagine that celebrities will give their ‘saath’ in making ‘Saath Do’ the upbeat anthem we all need.

Kanchan Naik is a rising senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. Aside from being the Youth Editor of India Currents, she is also the Editor-in-Chief of her school newspaper The Roar and the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton.