I lay in bed at 6am listening to my mother in the kitchen. Feeling pressured by all this excessive energy early in the morning, I got up. The smell of roasted rice and dal greeted me halfway down the stairs. But before I could reach the kitchen, my mother had disappeared somewhere.
Every available surface on the kitchen was occupied by cut vegetables and ingredients for pongal. The coffee was relegated to some corner and much effort had to be made to heat up some milk. The pongapanai was all decorated, with fresh haldi - leaves and root - and chandana-kungumam and all. If my mother was not busy in the kitchen, it meant she was doing some competition entry type kolam outside.
Can someone tell me why this business of varying the tedium of our days and celebrating every minor shift in the skies falls to the women? I mean, most of these festivals seem to be about eating different kinds of food not available during the rest of the year (with good reason. I mean, try making some of these things every day of the year) or waking up at the crack of dawn to stare at each others' very familiar faces in a different light, and somehow drumming up enough enthusiasm in the middle of wanting to murder somebody for making you lose sleep.
But coming back to the women question - seriously. Name one festival that requires the men to do most of the work: the cooking, decorating, feeding and cleaning up. No, don't talk to me about Rakhi: it's the women who fast until they manage to tie a little bit of thread around some fellow's wrist.
As for me, my idea of a festival is one that celebrates not having to wake up early and cram a days' worth of activity into the first two hours. But Pongal I remember with especial fondness: in Delhi during the old-style film festivals - the one that used to run from the 10th to the 20th of every other January - I remember some young men from Madras shivering in the wet and cold January morning, shouting pongal-o-pongal! to each other in their thin, miserable voices. Lines of people waiting to go in to the warm theatre looked at them curiously and wondered what all this waving of leaves and festive looking pots were about. Ah schadenfreude!
Happy Pongal, everyone. I suppose.