Sunday, January 23, 2011

Happy Pongal!

Hello Everyone!

Well, it has been an eventful couple of weeks since I returned to Dharmapuri. Back in Canada, the holiday excitement kind of dies down around New Years, especially for those of us who believe that no holiday between New Years' and Easter is worth celebrating (Valentine's Day? Family Day? Puh-lease.)

In India, this is different. January marks the festival of Pongal, a harvest celebration which I have been told is sort of analogous to Thanksgiving. In rural areas it's a huge deal, since a lot of people in these parts go to various cities or other areas for work. Pongal is when almost all families are reunited, and everyone comes back to their native towns and villages for a celebration.

In addition to this, Pongal is when Puvidham has their annual day. This is because it has always been difficult to get the parents to come to school at any other time of the year, for the same reasons as above. The annual day is done during the Pongal festivities, so that everyone can see what their children's school has been up to. Of course, this runs into the difficulty that the children must be absent from their festivities because they are preparing for their annual day.

Strangely, though, no-one really seemed to mind much, and all the kids were really intent on practicing their dramas, songs and dances all day, every day, with the teachers throwing in whatever revision they could during the down time. For my part, I spent some time with the fifth grade class as they rehearsed their drama and their dance, set to a song from a Tamil movie. Not much help was needed, though -- by the date of the performance, they not only knew their own lines, but also the lines of most of the other children!

One highlight for me was going to the hostel a couple of days before the big event to participate in their Pongal celebration. Since the whole point is to celebrate the bounty of the crops, there was a lot of good food! First they made an offering out of some rice and curry, spread out over a banana leaf and covered with bananas and jaggery (a sugar byproduct, I can only liken it to hardened molasses). Then they lit incense and set fire to a few sugar bricks to cries of 'pongaloo pongal!' While I was really interested in everything that was going on, I was secretly really anxious about all the good food I saw before me, well, not getting eaten. How do these things work? Luckily, only some of it was 'offered,' the rest was portioned off among all the children in sweet jaggery-filled rice-and-curry balls (if you're not salivating now, you really should be). The whole things was fairly short though, just a few minutes and then some more for photos, followed by a lunch so big neither me nor any of the kids could really move afterward.

It was hard for most people to even get nervous by the big day, since they had prepared so much for the presentations. The overriding sentiment was just one of complete excitement, which really got intense from about 4 PM on, when the kids began their two-hour-long makeup and dress session. Everyone, from kindergarteners on up, had themselves covered in makeup, from eyeshadow and bright red lipstick to fake moustaches to a sort of white foundation. Full disclosure, a) I know nothing about makeup so the above may not be accurate, and  b)I thought a few of the kids looked a bit like scary clowns because of the combination of that cream and the red lipstick (which was applied by absolutely everyone).

The presentations were a lot of fun, everything went perfectly and the parents seemed to really enjoy it -- so much so, that they gave their unanimous vote to having it remain at Pongal time (possibly to the disappointment of some of their children). In addition to the dramas and dances, two of the first graduates of the school came up and told the parents about how they were doing, and what they were studying. A visiting dignitary also came from the National Child Labour Program, which supports the work of the school, and gave a very nice speech -- I understood very little of it, but he was talking about the school's history and how it is an example for other schools in the district. He used the analogy of a rice paddy, which one has to nurture carefully in a small plot before planting the larger field, and said that the school was like that small, well-tended plot. Neat!

That is it for now, I promise pictures of all of the above will follow!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Adam. Please post the pictures. I would love to hear about what kinds of food you ate.