Tomorrow I drive back to Madurai to spend some time with Pastor Joshua. Madurai is home of the famous Jallikattu (Tamil: சல்லிகட்டு, challikaṭṭtu / Jallikattu) an event held in Tamil Nadu as a part of Pongal celebrations ( their harvest festival in January). Bulls are bred specifically by people of the village for the event and attended mainly by many villages’ temple bulls (kovil kaalai). A temple bull is like the head of all cattle in a village. Jallikattu is special to Tamils since it harks back to the Tamil classical period. Which is why it is controversial that it has been banned recently, after protests from animal rights groups. It is not ‘bull fighting’ since the object of the sport is for young men to prove their prowess by chasing the bull in order to snatch cash from between his horns. The winner is the first one to grab the prize. If no one succeeds then the bull is the winner. So it is more like Bull chasing than Bull fighting.
It was also in Madurai, in 1921, that Mahatma Gandhi, first adopted the loin cloth as his mode of dress in line with the poor people of the country who could not afford to a lavish style of dress sense. I thought that wearing my Crystal Palace t-shirt carried the same connotations of identifying with the weak and powerless.
I will be grabbing the bull by the horns as I meet up with about 20 Tamil Pastors to hear about Christian ministry in Tamil Nadu on Friday. Later I will preach to them – which is a privilege but I’m currently feeling that they will teach much more than I them. (Thursday Joshua is driving me way down south to see some of the village ministries that he is involved in.)
I had hoped to grab learning the Tamil language by the horns on this trip. This is the one objective that I have not made much progress on – for the following two reasons: 1. It is hard to learn. I mean really hard. I’m quite good at learning new information but rubbish at pronunciation, and Tamil is all about pronouncing poly-syllabic words correctly. I’ve got some Tamil audio to listen and learn from but at times I can’t copy it. Frequently the textbook tells me that it sounds a bit like French – as Emily will tell you, pronouncing French is the bit I find hard! 2. All the free time I have on this trip coincides with time spent in non-Tamil speaking areas. I have sat down with my Tamil textbook when the only people I can practice with are Malayalam, Hindi, Marathi or Sinhala speaking.
To become proficient at Jallikattu requires practice, lots and lots of practice. Learning to communicate in India is the same. I have tried to master the Indian head shake but mine just tilts, instead of keeping horizontal. The indian shake of the head is still a mystery, it can mean: “yes, no, maybe, I’m not sure, probably, I’ll think about it… or any combination of the above.” My guess is that I missed my flight in Mumbai because both myself and the Hotel staff were too embarrassed to make absolutely sure communication had been clearly understood.
So this post is partly to lower your expectations, especially Victor’s ones. I’ll only know a few words and phrases when I return. However, it is also a personal challenge. Learning to communicate takes time. I want to keep plugging away at language learning when I return.