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It’s a Kalyanam (It’s a Wedding)

Written by Shre Venkatesan | Edited by Kiara Bennett

In this Union of Charcoal and the Future, we will be serving the following on a tender, freshly-cut banana leaf:

Boiled White Rice: 


As a self-proclaimed chef, white rice is the easiest dish to make. However, it is the defining component of every South Indian meal, especially during weddings. It is also the largest portion of the meal, and like everything else, it is unlimited, fresh, and made with love and care. It is so integral because it serves as a symbol of honor for the people that harvest it, and provides a necessary component to a balanced meal. 


The symbolism of rice in South Indian meals is reminiscent of the symbol of Charcoal, as it honors creatives of color that harvest their labor, passion, and creativity. Charcoal has never failed to give us the space, trust, and the resources we need. Just like rice, the biggest portion of Charcoal’s mission is to produce and build a place for people of color, by people of color. 


To give flavor to the meal, toppings usually go on next. These toppings make the meal what it is: intriguing and irresistible.  Eating rice with different toppings makes you realize something about yourself– maybe you do like your sambar extra salty. Subconsciously, you compare it to your mother’s cooking, fully knowing it would never taste the same.


The different components of Charcoal are similar to how toppings are to rice– they add their everything to give life to the magazine, and to the community. 




A lentil gravy that is made with a variety of spices. It is one of the main protein components of the diet. Sambar is usually served first to prep your stomach. It is just spicy enough to get that first taste of South Indian villages, and it smells like home.  


Sambar expresses the excitement that Charcoal brings to the table. I have been excited at every single stage– be it as a new freshman, watching the launch party of Climax, or as a Charcoal writer writing their very last piece for the magazine. The level of excitement is unmatched. I get excited looking at the endless possibilities and potential I have, while at the same time, it scares me. This goes away, though, once you realize you are not alone. 


Kaara Kozhambu:


This is a spicy gravy that is heavy on garlic, chili, and nostalgia. It has a kick to it, and too much of it is definitely going to upset your stomach and your mom. Kaara Kozhambu is much like the creative side of Charcoal that fills everyone with excitement. The only difference– there can never be too much. 

Being a writer at Charcoal has made me learn a lot about how I like to express myself to the community. I learned about my love for metaphors, my dislike for third-person viewpoint narratives. Subconsciously, I always compare my new pieces to previous ones, just to see how I’ve grown and changed within this community, but each of them tell their own story, in their own unique ways. When I look back at my past through my written pieces, I am filled with nostalgia, regret, and at the same time, excitement and endless hope for how I will grow and change in my future pieces. 



This is a personal favorite. It is difficult to eat with your hands on a banana leaf since it is watery, and doesn’t hold well. But it is all worth it when you realize how aromatic it is. Rasam is aromatic and made with tomato, cilantro, and spices. It’s comforting, just like your grandfather’s faint snores, and your grandma’s bedtime stories. It’s also difficult, where the snores are too loud for you to sleep, and grandma’s bedtime stories are always repeating. But you listen to them anyway. 


Rasam reminds me of the nostalgic side of Charcoal. To many, Charcoal has been their first home. When I moved from India, Charcoal was one of the first places I found community in. Before joining the staff, I used to go to every event, and I remember being in awe every single time. It was difficult to find home in a place of admiration, which can be very different from comfortability. I was too timid and insecure to believe that I would ever fit in. But it became close to me as soon as I saw Charcoal being a part of me instead of seeing the other way round. 




This is the final add-on to the rice. It’s calm, and serene, and helps you wash everything down. You eat it with a pinch of pickle that adds a little spice, as your cousins tell you to hurry up and finish the meal you’ve been eating for an hour now. But, you’re a little too full to care. 


The feeling Moru gives me is similar to the sense of peace I feel when I am with Charcoal. This community is so much more than just its creativity and immense talent- it helps me accept myself entirely as I am. Charcoal helped me celebrate my talents and myself, while also helping me accept my faults and my mistakes, bringing me peace.


Side dishes:


Of course, this is not the end. There are usually at least three side-dishes that go with the main portion of the meal– two dry vegetable curries, and one gravy curry. I would turn my head away as my mom glared at me to finish everything on the banana leaf. But these vegetables slowly grew on me. No one tells you about the hating-vegetables-to-loving-them pipeline. They blend in perfectly with the toppings, and when paired with the right ones, they’re a match made in heaven.  


The journey I had with vegetables was almost parallel to the journey I had with Charcoal. I was definitely scared at first– how can I be a part of something so vast, so special? I was nervous about how big and tight the community was. Being an anxious introvert did not help with this either. It definitely took a while for me to feel entirely comfortable in the space- as I met more people, I realized the different ways I can express myself in the space, and whenever I did, I was wholly accepted as I am. Charcoal and I felt like harmony. 


The final dish for the night is payasam: 


It is a sweet liquid, almost always served in a very small paper cup alongside the banana leaf that is now empty. You close the leaf, bottom to top if you are not satisfied, and top to bottom if you are satisfied. Of course you are satisfied. Then, you drink the payasam. You reminisce about the last hour, and you accept this bittersweet ending of the meal. 


To say I am satisfied with my experience at Charcoal is an understatement. I have grown so much in the past year, both in and out of this community. I used to be filled with guilt and regret of the choices I made in the past. I used to be anxious and hopeless thinking about the future. But, I now visit the past without regret, I accept endings with hope, and I am both excited and terrified of the future. At this final stretch in Charcoal’s journey, I am more than grateful to have been a part of it. I hold out hope for what Charcoal is to be in the future. I am terrified to think of what I am with and without Charcoal. I am excited to push my boundaries, and explore beyond it. 


Though the tangible Charcoal is coming to an end, I am still here to witness its impact upon its community as it marries the future. It is never the end. And as a community, we hold out endless hope for Charcoal. We are joyful, we are grateful, we are emotional, we are excited. We shed tears of sadness and of joy in this ceremony for what Charcoal has been, and for what it will be. 


Join us to celebrate this ceremony between Charcoal and the future.

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