It’s Pongal time, folks! It is that period of the year when the farming community takes its time off to thank Mother Nature, while we the city-dwellers just thank Mother Nature for the time off, in the form of rare four days of holidays.
Here is a quick snapshot of the four-days of celebration as seen from the vantage point of city:
Bhogi: The festivities surrounding the harvest season begin appropriately with air pollution becoming thick enough to be physically harvested. Thanks to the random burning of waste all night, the entire city wakes up to smog dense enough to stop bullets.
Being a cultural festival of the land, the government also contributes to the celebrations; it makes available at every street corner enormous amount of waste —- some of which are old enough to get heritage status —- so that people have things ready at hand to set ablaze and basically make everyone feel asthma-inflicted.
Bhogi is also the annual ‘spring cleaning’ of sorts in these parts in anticipation of the impending shift in weather pattern, which is the onset of the season of temperature in Fahrenheit.
Around November-December time every year, we surreptitiously move from Fahrenheit to Celsius scale —- which is the only realistic way to bring down temperatures here — and ring in the winter.
With Bhogi, when the entire city is under a huge smog cover, as if it is auditioning to be part of the film Sachien, we again stealthily switch off the winter mode and go back to ‘F’ degrees. And voila, it is summer. Sadly, it always is.
Pongal: It is the most important day in the calendar of Tamils, one boldly written in letters of gold, one celebrating our grand tradition and culture in, well, politicking and fighting.
For long, Pongal used to be that mundane festival when the humble villager paid obeisance to the earth and the sun while the city-dweller paid respects to the stars, by watching FDFS their films that released for the festival.
And then, one fine day the much-needed interest was infused into the festival with a set of politicians decreeing that the first day of Thai, the traditional Pongal day, is also the first day of the Tamil New Year. And another day, another set of politicians, on the floor of the State Legislature, ordered that the Tamil New Year falls in April (when the Tamil month Chithirai dawns).
Now, the festival became fun. There was also a court case in between. Tamils are probably the only ones who had knocked on the doors of the court to find out as to when exactly our New Year falls. We sought to take the help of the court for things that lesser people make do with calendar. That’s how impressive we are.
Frankly speaking, both the camps have valid reasons for their claims. The best solution, in the event, is for both of them, in a spirit of camaraderie, to yield a bit of ground so that the Tamil New Year can be moved to — why not?— March 14.
With March having no other official holiday, we don’t foresee anybody actually complaining.
On the Pongal day, it is also not uncommon for the father of the house to wistfully talk of his childhood days in the village, eating sugarcane by the dozen, and gaily playing in the lush green fields and overflowing ponds. That, boys and girls, is a pure lie. Those kind of villages died in the 60s itself when he was probably not even born. The father is just making up stories. But you know that, don’t you?
Maatu Pongal: Bulls and cows are uncomplaining servants of mankind, and Maatu Pongal is the quintessential occasion for humans to repay them for their tireless service. And one of the major ways by which humans express their gratitude to them is by giving — we have a thinking brain, no? — a fresh coat of paint to their horns.
Maatu Pongal is no less important in the city. On this day, the bovine animals are herded up, given a lavish bath, fed huge quantities of grass and hay and ceremoniously worshipped and let off to carry out its traditional job of hindering the traffic at sleepy bylanes.
Kaanum Pongal: This is the culmination of the festivities celebrating, among other things, nothing. Seriously, no one knows what is to be done on Kaanum Pongal and what it signifies.
But traditionally, people living in rural areas make a beeline to the city. And those living in the city? Well, they also make beeline to the city after the four days of holiday vacation.
If they had managed to escape before the Bhogi smog set in, that is.