Pongal Precursor

As 2023 slips away into oblivion, we can’t but excitedly look forward to the first festival of 2024 - Pongal!

It never meant much to us personally all through our younger years, where we lived outside of Tamil Nadu. In our earlier stint in TN between 1992-96, we were still too young and urban (yuppies!?) to appreciate the significance of the most celebrated of Tamilian festivals. But for the past 10 years, as we settled down here in Coimbatore, worked closely with “friends who are farmers” and “farmers who became friends”, we now see Pongal as so integral to our lives, our work and all that we care for.

Pongal is the harvest festival of this land. But today, at Bio Basics, it almost defines us. Here are seven aspects of Pongal that inspire Bio Basics. And you can see how closely intertwined our lives have become with this festival.

Farmers: Pongal is a farmers’ festival. One where each and every Tamilian remembers the farmer. The food we eat every day is made possible by farmers toiling despite all odds. We all know that, but on Pongal, we pause to remember and then thank the farmer. “Maattu” Pongal, where the farmers themselves thank the cows & bulls of their farming household takes it all to a new level where everyone at the farm thanks these beings for their presence in their lives, by decking them up with bright colours and feeding them “Pongal”. Such is the permeation of the festive spirit during Pongal. At Bio Basics, farmers are the backbone of our vision of safe food and good health for all. Everything we do, we do out of respect for our farming folks.

Rice: Pongal is made with rice and dal, but the emphasis is on the fresh rice harvest. Celebrating the rice, and being thankful for the crop of bounty. Rice is a staple down South (and elsewhere in the world too), but the reverence is total here. Exactly the way it is at Bio Basics, the largest organic granary of heritage grains. Although we offer 300+ organic food items, we have curated 60+ rices for our consumers, celebrating the diversity of Indian rices.

Basics: Pongal is not a flashy festival by any stretch of the imagination. It is grounded in our connection to our land and thereby Nature. It is probably unique in that it does not attract much spending on flashy clothes or celebrations. It is basic. It is about basics. The cooking of pongal either at home (in the cities) or at the farm (in the rural areas) is at the core of the festival. Most of the time, wherever possible, folks choose to “wood-fire” the Pongal and enjoy the smoked flavour that the Pongal then carries. Needless to say, basics is the last name of Bio Basics, so we completely identify with it. We are not about luxury and fancy, we are about what all of us need each and every day - safe food and good health. And living as close to Nature as we possibly can.

Tradition: Here is a festival that is inspired by tradition. Like probably all traditional festivals. Remembering our past - both recent and ancient. Remembering our ancestors - both recent and ones we’ve never seen. Carrying forward their work in our own humble way as we can. Bio Basics also believes in learning from our traditions, thereby helping preserve our traditional grains, such that our crop heritage is preserved for future generations.

Food: Pongal is food in itself. It is one of the dishes that every Tamilian enjoys for breakfast several times a month, at the very least. Pongal, for those who are not familiar, is very similar to “Kichidi” comprising rice and dal, a comfort food for most of us, something we all go back to after we’ve roamed the world! For Bio Basics too, food is at the core of what we do. We believe in revering, enjoying, celebrating and protecting our food in every way possible.

Cooking: The main function of the festival is the cooking of the pot of rice and dal as Pongal. It reminds us all that cooking is not an act to be outsourced to others. It is core to the very being of a family. It is vital to the health of everyone in the family. At Bio Basics, we encourage all consumers to choose home-cooked meals for at least 18 of the 21 meals a family eats a week. Cooking at home, we believe, ensures that we choose the best of ingredients (safe, organic, whole and chemical-free) and thereby ensures that we stay in control of what we put in our mouths every day.

Celebration: Finally, Pongal is a celebration of the above, and much more. It is a celebration of life. In that celebration, we revere our past, embrace the future and strive in the present. In that celebration, we remind ourselves of our connection to Nature, the rest of humanity and other beings. We believe in “vasudeiva kutumbakam” - the world is our family. Bio Basics too celebrates in a meaningful way all that we are thankful for - our very being, our health, our food, the diversity of our cuisines and our grains, our farmers and the very ecosystem that sustains it all.

Pongal is special for Bio Basics for sure. And it is so for many of you.

But here is an opportunity to make it more special in 2024. Why should Pongal be cooked in just one rice? Why can’t we celebrate Pongal with a diversity of rices? No, I am not suggesting mixing up rices!!

Here is what we suggest for Pongal 2024. Choose 3 rices (one for each day of Pongal), including a millet. (Millet is also a rice in a broader meaning of the word).

We need not eat the same rice every day, when there are hundreds of rices that are so easily available today. This diversity of rices is not just good for us (each rice has a different micro-nutrient profile valuable to our bodies), and good for the farmers (who are then not forced to sell their rice as a commodity in a market that care little for her), but also good for the environment.

So let’s make the 2024 Pongal about the diversity of rices. In a land of a billion, what better way to celebrate diversity?!

Happy Pongal in Advance!

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