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On Pongal, pall of gloom in Nagapattinam
Sovi Vidyadharan in Nagapattinam | January 14, 2005 17:58 IST
Pongal, the festival heralding prosperity and plenty in Tamil Nadu, has dawned. But for thousands of tsunami survivors in the coastal district of Nagapattinam, the harvest festival is nothing but mourning for their dead kith and kin, long queues for food in relief camps and anxiety about their future.
Beaches, which once saw the prosperity of the fisher folk blessed with a good catch during Pongal, are now mute witnesses to broken houses and boats strewn all along.
Bleaching powder, sprinkled to prevent outbreak of diseases in the area, adorns the entrance to fishermen's houses instead of the traditional 'kolam' (rangoli).
"There is no Pongal for us this time," said 32-year-old Malathi of Akkarapettai village, one of the worst hit by the tsunami. She was observing 'karumathi', a ritual for the dead observed after 16 days of the death.
Malathi lost husband Andavel and sons Senthil  and Selvan  in the tsunami.
"We used to dress up in new colourful clothes and go to nearby towns to visit our relatives or to see a movie during Pongal. The beaches would be full of life and everyone would have enough money to spend. The sea also would bless us with plenty of fish," reminisced Palanivel, as he looked at the beach, which resembled a burial ground.
Close by, the administration was distributing dhotis and sarees in a relief camp near the Neelachi Amman temple. There was a big rush and people jostled with each other to get their share.
"A dhoti or a saree is a big thing to us now," said Pandian, who lost all his belongings when the sea swept away his house in Keechankuppam village.
Many shopkeepers, for whom Pongal usually is a time for brisk business, saw very dull sales this year. There was hardly anybody buying the hundreds of pots, meant for cooking 'pongal', stacked in front of shops. Anticipating the situation, some shopkeepers, however, had not stocked any Pongal items.
Among the gloom, the district administration tried to bring smiles to the faces of those orphaned by the tragedy though. District Collector J Radhakrishnan, along with nongovernmental organisations, visited the government orphanage in nearby Sikkal. Distributing 'pongal' (prepared with newly harvested rice, jaggery and milk), new clothes, toys and other essential items, they spent an hour with the 40 orphans presently housed in the orphanage.
The district administration also organised special 'Pongal games', which included kabbadi and cricket, in the tsunami-ravaged village of Seruthur to bring back cheer among the local youth and instil confidence in them.
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