15 January 2014

More pongal rambling

Thai Pongal, which is the Tamil harvest festival, is (and I suspect always has been) my favourite holiday. Over the years, I've tasted many types of pongal. I'll say it right now: sweet pongal sucks. I hate it. There's something about having a giant bite of rice, and getting a shock to the system with this overwhelming sugar bomb that just turned me off of the stuff. Mind you, I don't care for sweets as a general rule, but chakkarai pongal (literally, sugar pongal) is horrible stuff. Absolute boatloads of sugar (usually jaggery, aka unrefined brown sugar), cardamom, cashews, raisins, and just a bit more sugar for good measure. Ugh.

That said, savoury pongal is a symphony of lovely things. You get the cumin seeds, the beans, the rice, the curry leaves, plenty of ground black pepper, and (in my house anyway) LOADS of freshly grated ginger. Amma's pongal will always be the best one, no matter how many times I've made it myself. It's not that the recipe is wildly different. Nor is it that the technique is all that different. I didn't learn how to make pongal on the Internet. I learned it by watching my mother. It's just something about your amma's pongal that you'll always love.

Even though I love hers, my own pongal is pretty amazing too. I'm a fair bit less shy with the fat, and I add a generous dose of sesame seeds, and roasted cashews. I love a bowl of piping hot pongal with a good helping of cold coconut chatni. I've had pongal made with moong daal, tuvar daal, split peas (yellow, of course), and even once with black eyed peas. They've all been delicious.

Much like the American thanksgiving, you get together with family and friends, eat plenty of food, and give thanks to the sun, the Earth, and each other for all the good things in life. It's a happy time, where you celebrate all that life has to offer. Frankly, I can think of few things as joyous as a bowl of pongal.

It's also a time to get rid of the old and bring in the new. This doesn't just apply to worn out clothes or other physical things. It also means that you take the time to really reflect on ideas and thoughts that are holding you back, and renew good things in life. You apologise for your transgressions against others, and forgive them for their transgressions against you. It's the time of year when you celebrate your joy in just being alive, and the simple pleasures.

I sent out an email yesterday to reconcile with a very important person. Fortunately, that person felt the same way. We decided to try again, and put the past behind us. I'm not a superstitious (or, to be honest, a religious) person. However, I think that putting myself in the mindset of the Pongal celebration helped to facilitate my new beginnings.

In case you missed the celebration yesterday, don't despair! Today is the second day of Pongal. You've got two more days after today. Go! Make pongal! Throw away your old, destructive thoughts, and bring in fresh ones that help you realise how wonderful it is to be on this planet. Share food with your loved ones. Share good stories, good times, and good wishes with everyone you meet. Celebrate!