Good Morning World: Of Change, Traditions, and the Rice Ceremony

The world is one; one with all the life within it; one with nature that nurtures life with all the bounties that come in each season; one with the seasons that interact with and shape and nurture the future of all living beings.

And every season is a precursor to the next. Just as every seed is the progenitor of a new tree; Just as every first step is the foundation of a glorious journey.

In several cultures in India, including the one our family follows, The Onnoprashon is such an auspicious first step in the life of a new born. Popularly called The Rice Ceremony, Onnoprashon is also called Mukhey Bhaat, Annaprashan, Annaprasanam depending on which part of India you hail from and the language your ancestors spoke. It is a ceremony in Hindu families to celebrate the first intake of solid food by the baby, symbolising that they are now ready to add some elements of regular food to their staple diet of mother’s milk. The rituals of the ceremony differ in some details from region to region, but I believe it is broadly similar across India. The tradition seems to be that it is celebrated in the sixth month after birth or thereabouts.

I am not a person who abides blindly by tradition or ritual. As a child and youth, I followed the traditions and participated in the family functions. As an adult, I debated them with my parents and then for a better part of my twenties and till some time thereafter, I meditated deeply – from afar – on the merits and demerits of ritual and ceremony. And I came to realise that human beings have a need to belong and that, be it scientific medical advise, be it tradition, or their own logic, they will always fall back on a belief system when facing important decisions.

Now when I ponder about what ties me to my larger family, I see in my mind’s eye, the trusting faces of my siblings as I held them in my arms, the tiny hands of a younger sister, brother, nephew and niece, as they grasped my fingers, and I understood that it is a trust that little ones place in their elders. That’s what the ceremony symbolises: the gathering of people to witness a reaffirmation of the trust between family members that they belong to something bigger than themselves.

I have not met many of my siblings in decades, have not met most of my nephews and nieces. But I carry them all in my heart because of that unspoken trust that children place in their elders to think of them, pray for them and care for them. Like Hiranmoy, my younger brother who I met a few years ago – and that was after a considerable age. But he is as I remember him: trusting, open, playful yet shy, respectful strong and with a twinkle in his eye. His daughter, Anaisha, turned One recently and she had her Onnoprashon in August last year.

Last week my littlest niece, Ahana, turned six months and had her Onnoprashan – celebrated digitally by family and friends across the globe. She is the daughter of Sumedha, one of my youngest sisters, who now lives in Delhi. Sumedha was born in Mumbai in 1982, and I first laid my eyes on her when I held her in my arms, a wee baby a few days old – her parents brought her straight to our house from the hospital. Her father was in the Navy then, and her mother (my youngest paternal aunt) was my childhood playmate who fought and argued and cajoled me when I was wee. I remember Sumedha’s Onnoproshan in the latter part of 1982. And I remember the Onnoprashon of even younger siblings that we were all a part of.

I write this for all my brothers and sisters, and for all siblings everywhere, but especially for my nieces Ahana and Anaisha.

As a single seed can be the foundation of a mighty forest

As a lone courageous person can lead a nation through change

As a habit of walking the right path can build the highway to a bright future

So does the right nourishment nurture a child into a responsible adult.

Good Morning World. I think it is important to respect change and I think it is important to respect traditions and I believe it is important to respect the traditions of all cultures even as we change because it is the coexistence of diverse thoughts that makes us human.

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