Fam­ily re­union draws 375

Sunday Tribune - - HERALD - MYR­TLE RYAN

IT WAS pos­si­bly the largest fam­ily re­union ever held in Dur­ban. Five gen­er­a­tions, with 375 mem­bers, of the Poovalingam fam­ily ate, drank and danced the day (and much of the night) away at the Protea Hall in umh­latuzana, Chatsworth, last week­end.

Given the back­ground of caste dis­tinc­tions, some of the fam­ily mem­bers pre­fer to use the name Poovalingam, while oth­ers are happy to be re­ferred to as Pil­lay.

But a party is a party, and such an oc­ca­sion far out­weighs fam­ily sen­si­bil­i­ties. It is the day’s high­lights which each took away with them as a cher­ished pos­ses­sion, rather than so­cial cor­rect­ness.

They came from far and wide: Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, East Lon­don, Joburg, Pre­to­ria, Dur­ban and the Tugela River area.

Ac­cord­ing to Vas­san Pil­lay, the star of the event was 86-year-old Ula­ganathan “Dinky” Poovalingam.

Al­though the old­est per­son present, his bound­less en­ergy as­tounded the young­sters.

Vas­san chuck­led as he re­called: “He (Ula­ganathan) never stopped danc­ing. The party started at 11.30 in the morn­ing and un­til he went home at about 5.30pm, nearly every woman was pulled on to the dance floor.

“Sis­ters-in-law, nieces, grand­daugh­ters, chil­dren all had a turn,” said Vas­san.

The only per­son he re­ally had eyes for, though, was his wife of over 50 years, Tiny.

When con­cerned peo­ple told Ula­ganathan to sit down “be­cause he was too old and would get tired”, the “man of the mo­ment” wanted no part of such dull sug­ges­tions. He is, af­ter all, the only sur­vivor of the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of the fam­ily in this coun­try.

Even the food took sec­ond place to the chance to ca­vort.

“He only nib­bled. He is a very small eater,” Vas­san said. He should know the old man’s foibles: he is Ula­ganathan’s nephew.

What in­spired the old man to for­get about any creak­ing joints was the In­dian mu­sic.

“He is a staunch sup­porter of mostly ver­nac­u­lar mu­sic. He sang and trans­lated the words into English for those who did not un­der­stand.

“When he fi­nally went home, he must have been ex­hausted,” said Vas­san.

“Many peo­ple said he put us all to shame.”

Giv­ing a lit­tle more in­sight into the man, he said Ula­ganathan had once been an an­nouncer for the for­mer Ra­dio Lo­tus.

In 1981 he stood for elec­tion on the South African In­dian Coun­cil in the ward of Le­na­sia, but did not win a seat.

Un­der­pin­ning this joy­ful re­union was the mem­ory of one of the fam­ily’s most fa­mous sons, Pat Poovalingam – ac­tivist, at­tor­ney, newspaper colum­nist and hu­man­i­tar­ian who, ac­cord­ing to Vas­san, held a sim­i­lar func­tion in Reser­voir Hills 21 years ago.

The fam­ily has since grown con­sid­er­ably. Many were meet­ing rel­a­tives they had never en­coun­tered.

The hall was like a fairy­tale set­ting with lights, drapes, fine table­cloths and over­lays.

Shereen Pil­lay, a rel­a­tive from Cape Town, or­gan­ised an of­fi­cial pho­tog­ra­pher to record the gath­er­ing.

A large-scale fam­ily re­union… 375 mem­bers of the Poovalingam/pil­lay clan got to­gether last week­end.

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