The days and nights of partying are over. The New Year is well and truly upon us. This is the time when life gets all real. And so, we, the industrious people in Tamil Nadu, get ready for long and arduous days of more holidays.
Thirteen days in January alone, to give you the precise number.
Come to think of it, this is the story every January. If you are looking to increase the number of working days in Tamil Nadu, the simple way to go about it would be to just scratch off January from the calendar. Don’t tell me that removing a full month is a bizarre idea. We in Tamil Nadu have seen stranger things: Like the change in actual New Year. This State once knocked on the doors of the courts to find out as to when exactly its New Year, the Tamil New Year, falls. Tamil Nadu needed the Constitution for something that the rest of the world makes do with calendar.
Anyway, the bulk of holidays in these parts in January is taken up by Pongal and its accompanying festivals. These celebrations go back in centuries to the bucolic times of hard and honest labour, when humble peasants and cattlemen set aside a few days to thank Mother nature, unmindful of the fact that television was still to be invented and spending three-odd days with wife and children without any diversion could be anything but relaxing. After that experience, most farmers naturally didn’t mind spending all day tilling the land. That was how Green Revolution must have happened.
It’s this custom and culture of the ancient farmer that we city-slickers seek to perpetuate all through the ‘Pongal festival days’ by catching up on the new film releases and by being cooped up in our apartments and ordering pizzas and eating them straight out of the cardboard box.
The holidays start with Bhogi. It is a unique festival through which we ring in the rural spirit by making it difficult for flights to take off in these parts. Or at least that is what usually happens here, as people, in their zealousness to discard the old, which is at the core of Bhogi symbolism, set fire to anything that is pretty much inflammable. In the event, the whole city wakes up, on Bhogi mornings, with the visibility of Darjeeling and the temperature of Dubai. This is very off-putting because the standard visibility scale that we adhere to in the plains of Tamil Nadu is: 1) Bright: Summer days. 2) Hazy: Monsoon. 3) Pitch dark: Nights. 4) Pitch darker: Mani Ratnam film scene.
Then comes the all important Pongal, which of course, is marked by the eating of the eponymous Sakkarai Pongal and fervent prayers to the Sun God, no doubt urging him to not show up at least on days when the Indian cricket team is playing in these parts. Pongal may be a rural festival, but cricket is a pan-Indian custom, no?
And then we move on to Maatu Pongal, which celebrates the grand tradition of watching Annamalai on television. Kaanum Pongal of course, is that quintessential rural practice of — why not? — coming to the city. (In the days when there was no concept of cities and the Marina was not open for public, villagers observed Kaanum Pongal by visiting the outskirts).
On the back of these is the Thiruvalluvar Day, observed in memory of the visionary writer of those succinct lines that carry many pithy messages, including the all-important one that the budget speech has ended whenever P Chidamabaram is presenting it.
Forget the year, nobody is really sure as to in which era Thiruvalluvar was born. He may have been born in times when there was no calendar. But when the calendar was born, it was clear that he should have been born on 16 January, which is why we in Tamil Nadu observe it as Thiruvalluvar Day every year.
On a personal note, I must confess that I don’t get to observe Pongal and the accompanying festivals in all their pomp and glory because we, journalists, have as many official holidays in a calendar year as the number of rousing and inspiring speeches that Manmohan Singh in an entire decade. I could have as well said that we journalists have not many holidays. But mind you this is a humour column. Its quintessential tradition is to end with a joke.
Hence, Manmohan Singh.