Now every year in Mandalay, and lots of other places around this country too, in the cool months of November to February, there will be a "Pagoda" Festival to mark the founding or celebrate the existence of a neighbourhood pagoda or religious building. Although it may sound a serious and somber affair, actually it is a time for the community to get together and have some communal fun too: dance and song, slapstick comedy and a bit of a country fair-like atmosphere with hand pushed ferris wheels and merry go-rounds. That does not mean the monks and religion are neglected, most probably they'll be attended to by the elders of the neighbourhood, fed, donated to and their sermons listened to but after that in the evenings the neighbourhood comes to life in a way much different than normal. In the evening the street comes alive in a way very different from normal. Merry-making is in the form of a stage erected, a band on it, singers from the band crooning the old, the new and corniest songs . Neighbourhood wanna-be singers paying 5000 Kyat so their voices will heard amplified and backed by the band. An audience composed of the community sitting on rattan mats, is clapping, booing and giggling. Then come the comedians: the jokes are crude and critical but they water it down when the "Anyeint Minthamee" or dancing princess performs a traditional dance for everyone. That's the part I like. Takes me back to olden times and gives me a feel of what my grandparents felt at performances like this. The chill in the air does not deter anyone from going indoors even though the festival may be at their doorsteps. Street vendors selling and assortment of fried delicacies and fruit are out in numbers. I think the kids enjoy it most. They should. I certainly did when I was one. It breaks the school-home-television monotony of life for a child. The dash of electric colour from the whirring merry-go-round and the twinkling lights of bulbs of the vendors and the shouts of joy from most people surely attracts the most bored of children. Paper-machie masks of all sorts, balloons and bamboo swords are for sale. Clay mini-utensils are very popular with kids too. Next day they can start playing-acting cooking with them. By 1 pm the yawns start and the crowd thins. The last songs from the stage are announced. The chill air drives the youngest and oldest indoors first and the rest follow reluctantly. The pagoda festival ends for this year. And a jolly time it was. And everyone knows there'll be one in the next neighbourhood next week for them to visit. But the festival in your own street, I guess is the best.
By Soe Lwin (BEST Language School, Mandalay)
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