Photo feature

In Mumbai's Dharavi, Pongal is the occasion for a massive street party

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.

Ramakrishnan Nadar(47) a member of the local Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh unit, sets up stage.
Ramakrishnan Nadar(47) a member of the local Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh unit, sets up stage.
A milkman pauses to take a photo before the festivities begin.
A milkman pauses to take a photo before the festivities begin.
A thousand sacks of rice stand ready to be distributed.
A thousand sacks of rice stand ready to be distributed.
A woman checks a utensil for possible leakages.
A woman checks a utensil for possible leakages.
Women make preparations by their designated fireplaces.
Women make preparations by their designated fireplaces.
Aerial view of the festivities.
Aerial view of the festivities.
As water supplies for cooking ran out, some headed to a broken pipe nearby.
As water supplies for cooking ran out, some headed to a broken pipe nearby.
A street dog inspects a fireplace.
A street dog inspects a fireplace.
A woman prays to the rising sun.
A woman prays to the rising sun.
A woman drains out the excess water after cooking the rice.
A woman drains out the excess water after cooking the rice.
Dharavi is a diverse neighbourhood, just like the city of Mumbai.
Dharavi is a diverse neighbourhood, just like the city of Mumbai.
A boy struggles to keep his veshti on.
A boy struggles to keep his veshti on.
It's time to head home.
It's time to head home.
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