Incidentally, this year the Tamil New Year (for a particular sub caste) and Baisakhi fall on the same day i.e. 13th April 2020. I am unsure as to what special feast is cooked on Baisakhi, but Tamilians make this special dish called ‘Maanga Pachadi’ , made out of fresh neem flowers, (those little bitter white flowers on the neem tree), Mango, Jaggery and a bit of red chilly. The items here are supposed to signify different tastes thereby meaning that the coming year should have all the emotions likewise.
Covid19 had stuck Maanga Pachadi too. For many of us, mangoes are unavailable and neither are fresh neem flowers. Although the tree may have had many, it is out of reach, in more ways than one. Nevertheless, fresh neem flowers were replaced with the dry ones, Mango replaced with a bit of tamarind (for the sourness) and voila we had the Maanga Pachadi, devoid of mangoes. What’s in the name after all, the key tastes had been taken care of ( aren’t we always so good at Jugaad ?). And to make up for the absence of mangoes, a humble Kesri (Suji Halwa) had been offered.
So, while the lavish feast had been missing, the heavenly Gods and our taste buds had been appeased with a frugal palette of 1-2 special items. And just like in our everyday lives, there was Covid realization even on the New Year day (ok, folks it’s gyaan time. You can skip this part, if you wish)
While the most important dish on the menu was created with utmost jugaad and the temple visit was missing, we as a family were still together, under one roof. Barring a few relatives (with whom we were in constant touch and knew they were ok), we weren’t anxious or awaiting information about the wellbeing of our loved ones. Our plates were full, life was comfortable, we had received our salary and we were not mourning anyone’s loss. At this onset, I am thinking of one special family. The family of Col Navjot Bal, who lost the battle to cancer at such a young age, leaving behind old parents and young kids. The festival is of no significance, Covid 19 doesn’t matter to them anymore (they fought with it earlier already). They bid adieu to their darling son and a braveheart today. They lost their son and we lost a hero.
Also, for all those who don’t have a roof over their heads or those who have not received their salary and who lost their loved ones to this disease, it is another day ,another challenge to find some food to eat, a place to sleep or get something to make their family survive.
So yes, the realization seeps in that fervor of the festival is not in the special dishes, the colorful attires and the expensive gifts but in the company of loved ones. A day spent well without the humdrum of office, school and college, with simple food and without much fanfare.
So while the Bhangra beats and Nadaswaram may stay muted or in low decibels; the Maanga pachadi devoid of the mangoes, the spirit of the festival still remains, in the joy and togetherness of the family and loved ones. Not to mention, today, there was also a special prayer for those who are facing troubled times.
Happy Baisakhi! Tamil Putthandu Vazhtukall! Stay safe and stay happy. Eat well and exercise well (if not now, atleast after Covid 19 is history)