Being Women

Tilkut, Tradition, Tilsakrat: Self-discovery Through The Exploration Of The Unifying Threads Of Sankranti

The author shares her journey of how childhood dislike for Tilkut evolves into appreciation later on.

Tilkut tales

Sankranti! The name is attached with such a huge storehouse of memories for me, that even though I might not be the best person to talk about this festival, I will still go ahead and do it.

Sankranti is not the name with which I was first introduced to this harvest festival. My hometown of Gaya is famous for its ‘tilkut’, a sweet made from white sesame seeds. As soon as winter arrives, the labourers from the various sweet shops can be spied pounding the sesame seeds all day long. The pounded mixture is then mixed with sugar or jaggery and shaped into indented patties. It is in high demand during winter months and is the flag bearer of Makar Sankranti or Tilsakrat as it is called in my part of the world.

A Child’s Quest for Sweetness

As a child when I would eat a tilkut, the burst of flavours was like an assault on my tongue which had yet to develop a taste for the slightly bitter taste of sesame seeds or til. I could hardly understand why the adults loved the tilkut so much. However, they persisted in their praise. I too continued with my hatred of tilkut and consequently, all that was associated with Tilsakrat. Especially the gloom that descended at its advent.

Mother’s Tilsakrat Rain Prophecy – The Annual Tussle

It is a known fact that it rains on Tilsakrat. My mother is a firm believer in this adage. She would plan her washing and outings accordingly. When I was little, armed with the scientific temperament promoted by my convent school and the knowledge gleaned from books, I would contradict her without fail every year.

“It cannot rain on a particular day every year. It is just an old ladies’ tale.” I would try to convince her on the eve of Makar Sankranti. And she would just smile and say, “We will see tomorrow.”

The next day would be overcast without fail even if the sun was shining with a vengeance the earlier day. By the afternoon rain would fall, making short work of my confidence. Mother never said I told you so. Instead, she would cook something warm to counter the effects of the chill January day. I don’t remember when I stopped trying to convince her and got convinced. With global warming, these rainy fourteenths are becoming less common. And I long for her simple faith that come what may, it would always rain on Tilsakrat.

Tilsakrat’s Gloom, Hostel Hell, and Lohri’s Liberation

I left home for the first time after getting admission to a state engineering college. It was my first time away from home. The despondency of being alone wasn’t helped by the serious bout of ragging that we girls had to face in the hostel. We spent two gruelling months gyrating to garish songs, copying journals, and doing the seniors’ bidding. Rumours soon began circulating that our day of freedom was near. The hostel ragging would be over soon on Lohri day. Being a clueless kid who always had her nose in a book, I had never heard of this festival.

Lohri arrived and with it the announcement that the hostel fresher party was scheduled on the same day. We were allowed to finally say goodbye to our tricoloured ragging combination and look like decent human beings once again with washed hair and clean faces, no oil streaming down the sides of our faces, accentuating our thick kohl-lined eyes. A huge bonfire was lit in the grounds and as we circled the fire, I felt light in months. The roaring blaze not only devoured the grains offered to it but it also scoured us of the stress and despair heaped on us in the name of a deplorable tradition.

Khichri – A Taste of Home Rekindled

The next day was Makar Sankranti. The day began with no breakfast being served in the mess. We went to classes hungry and returned in the lunch break ravished. But lunch turned out to be memorable. The Bengali cooks of the hostel mess served us piping hot khichri with mixed vegetables, achar, and papad. I have yet to taste a khichri that delicious. The meal was rounded off with a humble serving of the tilkut, one that freshened the pangs of homesickness enough for me to gulp down the sweet with tears in my eyes. In my four years in the hostel, we had some bad meals, some good, and some great. But the Makar Sankranti Khichri remains one of my favourites.

Uttarayan’s Kite Symphony

I was lucky enough to get a job through campus selection. However, fate saw me land in a place that was the opposite end of the country geographically. While I come from the eastern region of India, I was posted near the Union Territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli, near Gujarat and Maharashtra with both their cultural influences vying for dominance. Here I was introduced to Uttarayan, the kite-flying festival. The sky would be covered with kites of so many hues and shapes, that I would be impatient to abandon my job and gaze at the open sky. How I wished I could be a kite myself, flying away in the open sky on the wings of the breeze instead of being cooped up in an office.

Unifying Flavors of Sankranti

In the office, I would be offered til laddoos by my Marathi colleagues who would say ‘til gud ghya god god bola’ which means ‘Eat sesame and jaggery and speak sweetly’. I was struck by the similarity of the presence of both sesame and jaggery in the sweet just like tilkut from home which I had learned to appreciate by now.

Embracing Unity

It proved without doubt that however different we may seem on the surface, we are all the same underneath. We may be divided by distance. Our food, traditions, festivals, and culture might seem varied but at the end of the day, we all want happiness, freedom, contentment and joy. Life is like a tilkut, sweet with a hint of bitterness. We just have to learn to focus on goodness.


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