For most Mumbai residents, the mention of 90 Feet Road in the congested Dharavi neighbourhood brings to mind endless traffic jams, incessant honking, and buildings sorely in need of a coat of paint. Just before dawn on Friday, though, it became the venue for a giant street party. For more than half a century, this part of Dharavi has been home to migrants from Tamil Nadu and on Pongal, 90 Feet Road was where they gathered to celebrate the festival of abundance.
A section of the road was closed to traffic and over a 1,000 brick fireplaces had been hastily assembled. Three different kinds of music blared out: one set of sounds from the Shiv Sena loudspeakers, one from the Hindu Yuva Sena and a third from a DJ at the end of the street who was entertaining the kids.
Soon, hundreds of women began to line up. The organisers gave each of them a bag of rice, tamarind, ginger, jaggery, stalks of sugarcane, a brand new cooking pot and a number telling them which fireplace they had been allotted.
Tiny flames lit up the road. The younger women were guided by the elder ones. The wave of pre-dawn camaraderie was broken briefly as the smoke brought itchy tears to everyone's eyes. But as the sun came up, everyone on 90 Feet Road said a silent prayers with folded hands and watched the sweetened rice boiled over just a little, a gesture acknowledging the abundance of the present and a fervent wish that it would continue in the year ahead.