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Tuesday, Jan 14, 2003

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Towards eco-friendly festivities

This year, the authorities have launched an intensive campaign to ensure a smoke-free Bhogi. This apart, there are also quite a few events that are taking place in the city to celebrate Pongal. PRINCE FREDERICK surveys the scene.

BOGHI, THIS year, has become a burning issue, with the authorities deciding to cry a halt to the time-honoured tradition of setting waste material on fire. The Department of Environment and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) are determined to "snuff out" Boghi revelry through mass awareness campaigns. Where advice has failed, the law will step in. Anyone seen "playing with fire" will incur a fine anywhere between Rs.500 and Rs.1000 or a month's imprisonment under the Environment Protection Act. Special police patrols have been formed for this purpose.

"Burning tyres, plastic or any material, other than agricultural waste, has nothing to do with tradition. In olden days, farmers used to set the chaff alight, after the harvest," says Anne Josephine, manager, awareness cell, TNPCB.

"For days before Boghi, TNPCB workers went in Green Squad jeeps and hired autos to the ten Corporation zones in the city to propagate the message that burning of hazardous wastes was ill-advised. Apart from the noxious fumes that pose a health hazard, the smog (combination of smoke and early morning fog) creates poor visibility and leads to road accidents."

The TNPCB has received support for its campaign "to stop the Boghi fires", from civic Exnora groups which have been going from door-to-door and speaking about the ills of burning tyres and other toxic material. Several city schools too have been actively involved in the anti-smoke campaign. For instance, on January 13, accompanied by their teachers, the students of the CSI Ewart School, took out a 30-minute procession to press home the need for a clean environment and a smoke-free "breathing space".

The Punjab Association celebrated "Lohri & Pongal Mela" on January 12. Sugarcane stalks, tapestries made from coconut fronds and bullocks bedecked with colourful mantles, sequins and tinsels, created the Pongal mood. The sartorial ensemble of the celebrating crowd was rich in colour. However, it was the fusion dance (combining Punjabi Bangra and Western and South Indian classical) performed by the students of Anna Adarsh School which captured the essence of the soiree.

"Lohri is an annual thanksgiving festival. In houses that have recently seen pleasant happenings such as a marriage or childbirth, Lohri celebrations will reach a higher pitch of excitement," said Aruna Nirula, vice-principal, Anna Adarsh School. "Tomorrow (January 13) Punjabis would have private Lohri celebrations, in their respective houses."

A Lohri ritual was performed, to the accompaniment of a special Lohri song. A bonfire was made and into which were thrown rewary ( a sweetmeat), chirwa ( equal to the "avial" dish) and popcorn. Milk and water were poured around the bonfire. This ritual was performed for thanking the Sun God and seeking his continued protection.

Students of the C. S. I. Ewart School campaigning for Bhogi without bonfires. Pic. by R. Ragu

This has not been a happy season for farmers. Recently, there were reports of two farmers from the Cauvery Delta, known as the rice bowl of Tamil Nadu, committing suicide following crop losses. Caught in the grip of penury, the farmers are in the invidious position of having to queue up before noon meal centres. Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, the whole issue has taken on a political colour.

Various non-governmental organisations across the State have charted out plans for protest marches and sit-ins on Pongal day. In Chennai, which could also witness some demonstrations, there are, however, some events which will liven up the day.

A cricket match titled "Cricketo Cricket" (a variation of the festival's emblematic slogan "Pongalo Pongal") is to be played at the Nandanam YMCA grounds on January 15 from 1.00 p.m. to 6.00 p.m. Entry is free. It will be a contest between two teams — "Ven Pongal" and "Sakara Pongal". `12B' Shaam and Silambarasan are to captain the teams, which will comprise film and television artistes. The 20-overs-a-side match will have a play-by-play by actor `Badava' Gopi. Bullocks are to be tethered around the commentary box. Cheer leaders (a few models are to be roped in) dressed as village belles will wave bunches of straws. The refreshment breaks will witness a bullock cart trundling on to the ground, carrying drinks and snacks.

There will also be spoofs on the weather, the condition of the pitch and the man-of-the-match award ceremony... all of which are integral to cricket matches. The winning team will get a pot of Pongal.

Usually for Mattu Pongal celebrations, bullocks are given a break from the plough. Great care is lavished upon them, they are decorated and offered goodies to eat. Though this is the tradition, they are often subjected to cruelty in the name of Jallikattu - a Mattu Pongal sidelight. Organisations such as the SPCA and the PFA have campaigned against this bloodthirsty sport, but with little result. Jallikattu has become well-entrenched, especially in rural Tamil Nadu. Animal activists' objection to the sport is countered with this line: "It is a tradition unique to our culture; we have to preserve it".

"Many cultures round the world have sports similar to Jallikattu. They are extremely commonplace. And the major commonality among the various forms of this sport is the element of violence," says Ramamurthy, an animal enthusiast. "In medieval Europe, bull-baiting was a popular sport. Dogs were set upon bulls, to provide entertainment. Even today in Spain and Latin America, you have bull-fighting. The bull is tormented by mounted picadors, who thrust darts into its neck. The matador then baits it with a red cape and attempts to kill it with a sword. Jallikattu belongs to such a tradition of cruelty, and there is nothing in it that one could be proud of."

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