The politics of a tanneer pandal
Tanneer pandals were very much in the news in the last couple of weeks. For, it was the time when the festival of the 63 great devotees of Lord Shiva was celebrated in Mylapore. To The Man from Madras Musings, tanneer pandals will remain a unique Tamil tradition, though a newspaper did refer to them as refreshment stalls, thereby conjuring up a vision of something on a railway platform with catering by Spencer’s in those good old days.
In the days of not so much yore, these tanneer pandals were simple affairs. Patrons donated money, a makeshift shelter of thatch was put up, a couple of pots of water were placed in them, and that was that. The more affluent pandals had buttermilk and, maybe, panagam, that sweet drink made with jaggery. That was the very outer periphery of luxury. To these the faithfuls flocked, slaked their thirst, and moved on.
But all cannot remain forever well in this Garden of Eden. MMM notices that the politicians have of late discovered that much capital (and what else is the average politician interested in?) can be made out of these pandals. Overnight these pandals have become participants in squalid vote-grabbing exercises. And how!
From his vantage eyrie MMM could see the pandals springing up in street corner after corner. And each of them sported banners with beaming photographs of the leader whose party had sponsored the particular pandal. The side walls had cut-outs and the rear had full-length photos of the leader in action. And each of the pandals needed formal inaugurations as well.
These followed a well-set routine. From an early hour, high decibel loudspeakers blared out party songs, film-songs involving the leader and announcements to the effect that a pooh-bah from the party was on his/her way to inaugurate the refreshment stall and provide manna in the wilderness to the deserving public. Bawdy dances followed in the bigger venues. Then came a series of speeches by the junior leaders, each in ascending levels of volumes and stridency. Dire fates were predicted for those who dared oppose the beloved leader while milk and honey would be showered on the faithful. The leaders in the opposition were berated in colourful language and aspersions were cast on their conduct in private and public. Moral turpitude was the general theme. MMM wondered as to where the speakers got such intimate details.
The Big ‘Un duly rolled up in due course and, by the simple act of drinking a glass of water, declared the pandal open in the name of the leader. The faithfuls were then let in. The bar, in short, was open. Those who preferred liquids were given the drink of their choice and for solid refreshments the sky appeared to be the limit. By the end of the day, the place resembled a Roman orgy of sorts with the ‘spiritually’ elevated reeling away or simply lying down on the footpaths. The next day the pandals bore all the signs of a morning after, with even the structure in some places leaning to one side, with a dissipated look.
Somewhere in his childhood, MMM had read that tanneer pandals had originated when Appoothi Adigal, one of the 63, had welcomed Appar, another of the same ilk, by constructing them. All MMM can say is that we appear to have come a long way from the time of Appar and Appoothi. Apres Appar le deluge, eh?
Render unto Caesar…
Remember those twinkling fluorescent strips that flashed at you from the road whenever you drove on the wrong side, which was all too often though it was not your fault. Well, The Man from Madras Musings has news for you. They have begun vanishing, one by one. MMM attributed their departure to the fact that the volume of Chennai’s traffic was too much for them and so they were wearing out at an alarming rate. But such, it appears, is not the case.
Apparently, there is a group that makes a small packet by removing them, collecting them till they form a respectable quantity and bulk, and then selling them. Though who care to buy them and for what purpose, MMM is at a loss to fathom. The seller, however, gets much-needed cash which he, in turn, showers on the local TASMAC bar for a tipple or two. It cannot be denied that our brethren lead interesting lives and work hard for a living.
MMM was quite shocked to know about such goings on. Not so MMM’s informant who is a sharply observant character. He sees poetic justice in the whole thing. What was provided by the Government is being returned to it, is his view. What is being lost on the turnstile of roadways is being gained on the roundabout of liquor vending.
There was a time when Chennai worked as per the clock and the more religious followed the panchangam or almanac. Good deeds were begun at certain hours, and the inauspicious hour, which followed the formula of Mother Saw Father Wearing The Turban on Sunday, was avoided like the plague. But now The Man from Madras Musings observes that everyone works as per the hours of the power cut. Meetings, discussions and outings are planned according to the schedule and the more enterprising ones fix visits to places where they are sure to find power and, more importantly, airconditioning.
And MMM has to hand it to the TNEB. Their word is their bond and they are remarkably punctual when it comes to turning off the power at the main and restoring it after the stipulated two hours. Neither a minute more, nor less. Never a minute earlier nor after. Shylock could have taken his lessons from them. But it makes MMM wonder as to why such meticulousness could not be followed when it came to planning for power capacity and generation.