Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Festive Restive

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.


Szerelem said...

God, the only things festivals are good for is sleeping in and - ummm - eating out.

Hmmm my dad always does work for Diwali - cleaning up, putting up lights and what not....and for Holi cooks mutton... its nice when someone else does all the work, no?

Oh, well...Happy Pongal!

dipali said...

Very valid point. As though women weren't busy enough on normal days.
Ah well, since you are up and about now and have had your coffee, Pongal Gretings!

Banno said...

I'm all for sleeping in late, whichever day of the year. Teja is the one who lights up the diyas on important days of our lives. It's Makar Sankranti today, and he's been preparing to fly kites for the last 3 days. Sadly, he still has to find the time, and the right terrace. Happy Pongal.

Space Bar said...

Szerelem/Banno: Yes, it's great that the men do stuff, of course, but it's not as if tradition requires them to. I'm trying to find one festival where it's tradition for the men to do all the work and the women can just sit around looking lovely.

And thanks all!

SUR NOTES said...

karvachauth requires the women to sit around looking pretty...and starving...and the men are not really expected to do any of the work even then.

but must say your descriptions have just made your early morning sound lovely and magical.

happy pongal.

and i am finally coming to hyd!

??! said...

Christmas. Men put up the lights. That's about it really.

Space Bar said...

sur: when? when? mail me!

??!: :D

Veena said...

SB: If I may say so, Pongal requires both men and women to do the work. Not the type that you and I celebrate but the type that if you were to come to rural Cholaland in mid Jan you will see. Of course women get to do the cooking etc. but the men have to get up some early and go work in the fields. Otherwise, they don't get any Pongal. Not in my family.

Space Bar said...

Veena: If you'd said the men in rural Cholaland have the arduous task of decorating the bulls for maatupongal and preparing for jallikattu or something then ok. But fields? When the harvest's all done? Why?!

km said...

Please, sb, let's save the flame wars for...Diwali :)

God knows what would have happened if the fathers were to cook on festivals. ("Here, 50 bucks...go eat some butter chicken and enjoy")

And happy Pongal to you as well.

Veena said...

oh well, the harvest being done by pongal is a major con. its not like they have a date every year when they have to finish harvest. its very dependant on weather, and nowadays on labor availability. and if you are one of those farmers who believe in crop rotation, then you always have work in the fields. pongal or not.

Extempore said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Extempore said...

And even if one manages to ignore that it all falls to the women, I just don't understand why on Earth it needs to be done at the crack of dawn - or even earlier?!

I hope you had a happy Pongal! :-)

blackmamba said...

Spacebar: happy pongal!

Hope you had your fill of sweet and spicy pongal, while we languish in the land of the bland. :P

That kolam is cute - who did the sun and the house piece with the rolling cylindrical thing? Picture of your mom's elaborate kolam that is just hinted at on the side, please.

Also, one should mention, older women try to con you into believing that they actually enjoy this whole waking up and cooking elaborate meals deal. what's up with that?

Falstaff said...

Not to deny the gender bias or anything, but what I don't get is why festivals should mean work at all. My idea of a good festival is one where you spend the day in bed with a couple of good movies, a bottle of scotch and take-out. And, optionally, someone else. The last thing anyone should be doing on a festival is cooking. As for drawing silly patterns on the floor, don't even get me started.

Space Bar said...

km: more reason than ever to leave the cooking to them!

veena: of course you have a point...god! i'm os happy i don't live in heartland cholaland. i'm sure i'd have been trained to roll out appalams and all the other stuff my greatgrandmum used to do.

extempore: oh...it was fine. though the kite-flying was my favourite part.

black mamba: that's the kid's kolam. mum's is now very unaesthetic on account of my having taken the car right over it and ruined it. :D

falstaff: *sigh* now that would be a real festival.

and what do i have to do? kanupongal. like, right now. as soon as i'm done typing this.

have to take yesterday's haldi leaves, bits of food and draw kolams and put the stuff out in neat little rows for the crows, praying the while for the menfolk.