Break without break

Blessed are those born in TN, particularly if they happen to be government employees. Gifted are those who hold ration cards of all colours and lucky are those who hold ration cards of some HC-ordained colours.

Let me explain. All government offices will remain closed close to a week for Pongal holidays which can be converted into 10 days’ through the familiar tactic of availing leave on Friday (18 January).

Originally, Monday, 14 January (Bhogi) was to be a working day. But the government suddenly issued a circular that, ‘bowing to the wishes and requests of people, government employees and associations, 14 January is also declared a government holiday so that all of them can celebrate Pongal in their native places without a break’.

Normally, one talks of work without a break but here we have a government which makes official declarations on holidays without break for a chosen, organised, and, therefore, blessed lot. Can anything be more bizarre?

Apropos para one, the gifted lot, instead, is a larger population – the ration cardholders. All of them across creed, caste, community (even those of other religions who don’t celebrate Pongal) and card colour will get a gift pack of raw rice, sugar, raisins, cashew nuts, cardamom and a sugar cane piece.

The scheme will reach over two crore families and cost the treasury Rs 258 crore. Sweet news, indeed, for people but not so for the exchequer. And, despite this, can we expect that the State Cabinet, Edappadi down to legislators, would have also got their slice of sunny pongal (not to speak of other ‘gifts’ they get on the sly under the shade)? Well, why not? In TN anything goes, officially and unofficially.

And to the lucky ones. The gift pack originally came with a dole of Rs 1,000 for all R. cardholders. And many smart ones in the higher rungs of society quickly made a grab for and got their due duly delivered in two, 500 rupee notes. And then landed the High Court guillotine that only those below the poverty line (i.e. red cardholders) will be entitled to Rs 1,000.

The other cardholders were, obviously, crestfallen as if they have lost their entire property. However, the red card waved by the High Court was short-lived. Just as I write this, comes the news that on a review petition filed by the State government, the same HC has now waved the white flag for many other cardholders of some specified hues.

However, it appears some colour cardholders are still out of the Rs 1,000 circuit. But, in all, the R. card (ration card, not just red card) episode has turned out to be a grand official spectacle of shoddy and sloppy populism and judicial flip-flops. Now you all know what I will say. But still I will say it. This is TN, rational at that.

But talking of spectacles, the government faces stiff competition from the State’s core DNA – namely cinema. Beating those who were in suspense and now scurrying for the aforesaid double five hundred (can’t help recalling the demonetisation times when a single 500 rupee note was gold incarnate) are the double film releases from Rajini and Ajith.

It is no coincidence that most ATMs in the city and State have gone dry with withdrawals hovering between Rs 1,000 and Rs 5,000. Now you don’t draw such paltry amounts for a long Pongal holiday. Add to it the youthful demography of the withdrawers and then add the Rs 1,000 from the government’s gift wrap, it requires no intelligence to deduce that all the money of the above denominations have attained salvation at the cut-out feet of the two tinsel gods.

The reel rage of Tamil fans is a global phenomenon with the diaspora in several countries excelling even their cousins here. But in TN the cine celebrations will last longer thanks to the long holiday, a combo of official, unofficial and Godsent. This is not a long weekend, but a week without end.

A jarring note comes from an affected community – small businesses have lost customers to cinema, tourism and, surely, Tasmac. The unlucky larger working populace (i.e. other than government and bank employees) are in grouse mode too, but with the comfort of evening and night shows.

The economic cost of this reckless escapade by a devil-may-care government and star-struck people on a State struggling in deficit is completely lost in the din and detachment of whistling fans and pampered citizenry respectively. But then this is TN, the ever houseful theatre of the absurd. Here, only politicians and producers of cinema prosper whatever the season or celebration.

By the way, happy Pongal.

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Jawahar T R