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Tamil New Year controversy

Tamizhanda!

Among the many groups and races, we Tamils are unique and special, especially when you take into consideration the fact that we are 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.

Tamil has no equals also because a good majority of its people, including its top poets and litterateurs, cannot even manage the right pronunciation of it (Thamizh).

Be that as it may, this week as the State gets set to celebrate the Tamizhar Thirunal Pongal amidst some controversy, we provide a small Q and A on issues relevant to the occasion.

The whole exercise, short on facts, is tasteless and puerile. But we are sure that Tamils wouldn’t mind this. For, we Tamils are the most accommodating despite open aggression from many sources, but none more sinister and horrendous than when Udit Narayan or Kailash Kher attempts to sing a Tamil song. (Forget the Kudankulam and Mullaiperiyar issues; what we need is an urgent and stringent ordinance to ban these singers from stepping anywhere near a mike to croon a Tamil number).

How many letters are there in the Tamil alphabet?

As far as we know, the Tamil language consists of the 26 letters that comprise the English alphabet. The rest is left to the discretion of the Google transliteration application.

Anyway, whatever number it is, we are told that Periyar improved them all. Don’t ask why Periyar changed the existing letters with which nobody had any problem. The overall feeling is Periyar had a lot of free time on his hands, and Tamil language was also lying free.

Let us also bring to your attention that Tamil has a special letter called Ayudha Ezhuthu, which is in the Tamil lexicon performing the literary task of making up the numbers. Frankly, it is impossible to use that letter in every-day language. There are only three words that are technically possible to write with that letter. So why have it? Well, it can work as an emoticon: To convey confusion.

(As a trivia, we would like to point out that Maniratnam made a movie under the title Ayudha Ezhuthu, even though nobody has any earthly clue as to why he named it so. Also, nobody has a clue as to why he made that movie in the first place.)

What do you know about Thiruvalluvar?

The pithy pieces of wisdom, none exceeding two lines, make it clear that Thriuvulluvar was a great visionary, one who had seen the coming of Twitter several millennia ago. Yes, Thirukkural is tailor-made for Twitter, except the fact that his profoundness will not have much space on Twitter, where the height of intellectualism is a tweet like ‘I love my wife’s cooking’, which naturally gets instant echo and myriad responses and is discussed for hours together.

Coming back to Thiruvalluvar, forget the year, nobody is really sure as to in which era he 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,

What is this controversy over the Tamil New Year?

For long the birth of Tamil month Chithirai (around April 14/15) was deemed to be the birth of the Tamil New Year. But various Tamil scholars objected to this on the sensible grounds that by April most schools would be closed and there was no point in declaring a holiday for New Year when the schools were already on holiday. The scholars based their argument on the fact that the birth of a New Year technically serves no real purpose other than providing a reason for one more official holiday.

Taking cognizance of a serious call made by Tamil scholars in 1921, Karunanidhi, as can be expected of him, quickly responded in 2008, 39 years after he first took over as the Chief Minister of the State in 1969.

Anyway this shifting of New Year was as sincere and serious as any bureaucratic matter would be. April 14 was forthwith suspended from breaking the New Year, while January 14, which till then held the charge of hosting Pongal was given the additional responsibilities of handling the Tamil New Year as well.

But what is the problem in observing Tamil New Year on Pongal?

Well, traditionalists, for their part, point out that the celebration of Tamil New Year on the first day of the Tamil month Thai (around January 14/15) defeats the very idea of Pongal, which celebrates the ancient Tamil custom of enjoying a series of public holidays starting from Bhogi till the office runs out of patience and starts threatening the staff to come back or face the serious consequence of losing, well, the Republic Day holiday.

What is the way out?

Frankly speaking, both Thai-ists and Chithirai-ists, seem to 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.

If this, for some reason, doesn’t work, the Tamil people can push the New Year all the way to December and have it on the 12th. No one dare protest that.

For, it’s: Rajni’s birthday.

But that‘s for the government to decide, what of the general public?

No matter whether it’s Jan 14 or Apr 14, we the people will continue to celebrate the Tamil New year in the same time-honoured traditions and inviolable practices of the land, which is to: Watch TV all through the festival day. And then generally complain the next day that TV culture is spoiling the culture of the land.