Well the celebrations today were so fast and furious I decided to capture the moment this afternoon while everyone is resting. We met this morning with Mootu (there are several men working with ODAM with this short name so hopefully this won’t confuse you later as it is me now) who took us to his home. There we met with his wife, his father and mother, and another woman and her child who we think was a sister but none of us came away clear on that. The little girl was darling and took a while to warm up to us. She had turned three in December and was quite enamored with Kate’s bangle bracelets (an apparent must though I have none and get away with it – probably as I’m older). The father’s English was pretty good and we spent time talking with him and then looking through scrapbooks of the baby’s second birthday, where her head was shaved, and the wedding album of Mootu and his wife. Then they cleared the floor and laid down blankets for us to sit on to eat. The father ate with the guests while everyone else watched. Pongal the celebration has a special sweet rice served – and that was the main dish this morning along with idli and chutney, a piece of banana, and a piece of coconut, all served on our banana leaves. Our hosts were very gracious and after the meal went to get us pieces of sugar cane, also an important feature of the festival. They were very patient explaining how to eat it and I wasn’t particularly successful at peeling off the outer husk with my teeth so they cut mine in half down the length and then I had all the women laughing as I started eating it incorrectly. Fortunately I’m getting used to looking foolish ;-) The special pongal rice was sweet and heavy, followed by that pure sugar cane, it was rather heavy on the stomach. The women of the family placed flowers in our hair – no mean feat with my short hair, but it was nice to be pampered. Ramsey then went off with several of the men (and once again was served pongal at another home) and we women went to the office so that Ushu, a young employee there, could assist Kate and Christa to properly put on their saris. I felt like the poor cousin, though my outfit is attractive. Kate has been in India on and off several times over the past couple years and this was the first time she’s had a sari. Both looked beautiful.
We rushed to the official village celebration where we were honored guests. The first order of business was to walk through the front of the police station and the long side street where the kolam competition was held and we admired each and took appropriate photos of the kolams and their makers. We were then ushered in front of the equivalent of the city hall where the awards were to be presented to the winners. They were awarded either silver pongal pots, which look rather like shiny silver spittoons, for first place, or decorative silver plates for the next level of awards, and then small silver bowls with lids were the lesser awards. Each of us took turns handing the awards to the winners as we posed for the cameras (felt like we had our own version of the paparazzi). Then the real fun began – we volunteers and several members of the community (dressed very well so assuming important folk) had a race where we were to hold a spoon in our mouths with a small lemon on it and had to make it some distance without dropping it. Ramsey raced ahead with Kate close behind and everyone laughed and made us begin again saying “slowly, slowly” so none of us quite understood the point of the race. Perhaps it was to go furthest but who knows. The next entertainment was a group of about nine women playing musical chairs. Then it was the turn of the volunteers – and the crowd seemed to get quite a kick out of the four of us playing musical chairs. On our second round Ramsey and I were both close to the same chair and I probably had the best chance of sitting in it but he grabbed the arm and turned it so he could sit in it. Everyone laughed and made us redo the round as that wasn’t fair – but all in good spirits. I ended up winning – and so now have my own special silver pongal pot. I guess that was worth the humiliation of a 52 year old woman playing musical chairs in front of a couple hundred onlookers. We then stood around behind Kate as she made a short presentation for the local Sun TV station. I have no idea if we really made it on television but sure hope not. Then we were taken inside the city council building along with a half dozen men and again fed pongal, though we had spoons this time which removed the messy finger problem for this public ceremony, for which I was very grateful. By the time we came from the building, the crowd had dispersed and we were driven back to the office (a two minute walk) because we’re so important ;-) There Usha, the young woman who had helped with the saris, was cooking pongal for the first time and we had our third helping. You have no idea how heavy three helpings of pongal can be – and poor Ramsey had four! Obligatory eating isn’t really something you can avoid but at least it was relatively tasty – though not as good as the usual food – rather like being fed super sweet cream of wheat several times.
The trip to the ashram and to the Gamesh temple both fell through – perhaps something like this will happen another time. I think the rest of the afternoon will be quiet and peaceful and maybe everyone will be rested enough to do something this evening, though I don’t believe there’s anything special planned.
Take care – and Happy Pongal!