Happy Lohri and Pongal! Plus miracle volcanic clay and cats get credibility in Singapore

Jan 17, 2024 Episode 171

South Asia celebrates its winter sun harvest festivals, miracle volcanic clay and cats get credibility in Singapore

Episode Transcript

Episode -171

LEELA: Hello and happy winter sun festivals in Asia, plus upcycling fast-food fumes and cats get credibility in Singapore.

OPENING STING – LEELA: “Hey, hey, hey. Listen up. New, new, newsy – Newsy Pooloozi!”


LEELA: Hello and welcome to Newsy Pooloozi – the news pool for curious kids and adults! I’m your host Leela Sivasankar Prickitt and, as ever, I’m joined by the big story explainer and sound effects finder otherwise known as my… mama!

MAMA: Well, hello everyone. I’m also called Lyndee Prickitt.

LEELA: Okay that also, and this is your one-stop-shop for the most interesting and important news happening around the world. This week…

Happy Lohri and Pongal! No idea what those are? Never mind, we’ll tell you all about these South Asian winter sun festivals.

And new discovery helps us know more about the earth and could open up new ideas for strategies to trap co2 or cool our warming planet.

And cats get credibility in Singapore where they’ve been banned from certain public housing for years. Poor things.

All that and more this week on Newsy Pooloozi – the news pod for kids! Alright, let’s dive on in. First up, it’s the…

BIG NEWS STORY STING – VARIOUS VOICES: “The big news story of the week!”

MAMA: So, a question for you, Leela.

LEELA: Go for it.

MAMA: What and when is the winter solstice?

LEELA: Ohhhh… Tough one!

MAMA: Well, I’ll make it easier on you. What and when is the summer solstice.

LEELA: Uhhhh…

MAMA: Come on – hint – we celebrate well into the night and its surprisingly light outside. All day long.

LEELA: Ah! Right. The longest day of the year. Sometime in June, right?

MAMA: Yes, June 21 or 22 for the northern hemisphere. Because that’s the point at which the Earth is tilted closest to the sun. So short nights and long days.

LEELA: So, I guess six months later would be December 22 and the shortest day. Because the Earth is furthest away from the sun. So, it’s dark for more hours than it’s light. Depressing! Good thing Christmas lightens things up.

MAMA: Yes, and I bet that’s no accident. But it also depends how you look at it.

LEELA: What do you mean?

MAMA: Well, Is the glass half empty or half full?

LEELA: So, it’s the optimist or pessimist question?

MAMA: Yes, kind of. But the point is, you can look at the shortest day of the year and get depressed there’s hardly any sun or you can think, “here we go – countdown to summer begins now!”

LEELA: Huh. I have to say I never thought of that. Although we have a family friend who always gets sad every summer solstice, thinking the long nights are ahead.

MAMA: Yeah, just depends on how you want to see the world. Anyway, the ancients in South India wanted to view the world from the positive, half cup perspective.

LEELA: Good on them! But… like, how?

MAMA: Well, they celebrate the end of winter. As in…?

LEELA: Party! As in… festivals!

MAMA: You got it. Up-and-down India and its neighboring countries there are many different celebrations for the end of winter and the beginning of a bountiful harvest.

LEELA: So strange – though, I always think of harvest as an autumn thing.

MAMA: Well, I’ve probably passed on my very North American way of looking at it. You gotta think that the weather is a little different down here in India. There is winter, sure, like now especially in the northern part of the country. Where we are wearing sweaters but it’s not super cold.

LEELA: True. Not in the afternoons. And it’s not cold for very long. Like in a month we’ll be in short sleeves again.

MAMA:  Exactly. In fact, the seeds are sown or planted here in October, which means right now in the middle of January, the fields are full of beautiful crops of rice and wheat. Hence the harvest festivals are in January.

LEELA: Oh, yeah! Like the Punjabi festival of Lohri up here in the north – which I JUST celebrated at my best friend’s house this weekend!

MAMA: See exactly. So, describe it. What did y’all do?

LEELA: Well, there was a big bonfire and we got to eat lots of Indian snacks and including popcorn and – for some reason – we threw some of the popcorn into the fire…!

MAMA: Yeah, that’s the giving of thanks to nature – feeding the fire. Man! Why wasn’t I invited?!  I love a good bonfire.

LEELA: Uhhh, you were out of town, remember.

MAMA: Oh, yeah well. So, interestingly, while most Indian festivals are celebrated within people’s homes, just amongst family, this one is celebrated in the community. Often in the villages it’s a big neighborhood bonfire with lots of singing and dancing.


LEELA: Uhhh, gotta say there was no singing and dancing at our Lohri party.

MAMA: Oh, I’m sorry. That’s no fun. At least you had popcorn. And others would have roasted corn-on-the-cob.

LEELA: Plucked from the early harvest?

MAMA: Yep. And sugarcane, which also grows this time of year.

LEELA: So, bring on the Indian deserts made from gurh, or unrefined sugar! You know we also roasted a marshmallow may be that was the gurh

MAMA: Yeah may be so.

LEELA: So, in the south of India, Lohri is called Pongal?

MAMA: Yes and no. There’s also Makar Sankranti in the West. And while they all celebrate the end of winter and the coming harvest, they each have different stories and traditions associated with them.

LEELA: I guess down south where it’s much warmer there’s no bonfire.

MAMA: Right. For Makar Sankranti, devotees will take a dip in a sacred river at dawn to cleanse them of their sins.

LEELA: All those dastardly deeds done in the dark of winter…!

MAMA: (coughs) Yes, It’s also seen as a time of peace and prosperity. Thank you very much.

LEELA: And Pongal?

MAMA: Well, we have our very own Tamil Nadu correspondent, Sahasra Sridhar –

LEELA: Also our very first intern who writes great copy!

MAMA: So true! Well, she’s written and is voicing this special report.

LEELA: Take it away, Sahasra!


SAHASRA: Pongal is the harvest festival, where everyone gets together as a community to thank the Sun, Mother Nature and the various farm animals that come together to give us a good harvest for the year!

The first day of pongal, known as Bhogi, indicates a fresh start. People traditionally discard their old clothes and unwanted items, clean up their house, buy new clothes and gear up for a new year ahead.

On the second day, Surya pongal, the Sun god is worshiped. This being the most important day of pongal, we decorate our houses with flowers, lamps, and colourful floor patterns known as kolams or rangolis are drawn outside the house for some extra flavour. The most iconic part of pongal happens on this day, where a pot of fresh rice and milk is steamed until it overflows, and the entire family yells out “pongalo Pongal…”

And then continues to devour the entire pot after it’s spiced up with some Flavors or sweetened with some jaggery. Food is a huge part of every tradition here – there’s no good festival without a good feast!

The third day – maatu pongal – is a day of family and fun. In some households, the whole family comes together to perform a ritual known as “kanu pidi.” During this, the female members of the family pray for the everyone’s wellbeing. Other families worship their cattle by bathing them and dressing them up like little dolls!

The last day of pongal, known as Kaanum pongal, is a day for society. Families get together and eat delicious heaps of food, youngsters get blessings from the elders, traditional folk dances are performed, and everyone has a lot of fun!

With this our Pongal celebrations are over everyone goes to the bed with full stomach a cheery smile and more stories to tell.

On that note, I’ll be signing off.

This is Sahasra Sridhar from Chennai, Tamil Nadu, wishing you all a happy Pongal!!

LEELA: Thank you so much Sahasra. Wow – what a festival!

MAMA: Seriously. Four days of festivities!

LEELA: Uhhh, I think you mean feasting!

MAMA: Ha ha good one. That while people in Europe, North and South America, and other Christian countries just finished a whirlwind holiday season – including Christmas and New Year – the holiday season is still in full swing in Asia.

LEELA: Yeah. Chinese New Year is also just around the corner.

MAMA: Yep. Also known as the Lunar New Year, or even the Spring Festival, it officially starts on February 10th! It will be the year of –


LEELA: No, we’re not telling you now. Of course, you can Google it. But only on Newsy Pooloozy will you get the full low-down on what this year’s special animal will mean.

MAMA: So, watch this space, folks!

LEELA: Or listen to it.

[SOURCE: https://www.hindustantimes.com/lifestyle/festivals/lohri-2024-date-history-significance-and-celebration-of-punjab-s-harvest-festival-101705050192770.html


WORLD WRAP STING – LEELA: “What’s that? I’ll tell you what. That’s the halftime bell! Which means… it’s time to hear what’s making news around the rest of the world. Hold on tight, it’s around the world in 80 seconds.”

MAMA: While Israel and Hamas reach a deal to allow more humanitarian aid into the war-ravaged Gaza Strip, UK and US forces carry out air strikes on the other side of the Middle East in the country of Yemen. Why? Houthis that control most of the country have been attacking ships heading to Israel.

The US Republican party caucuses or meetings to decide who will be the party’s presidential candidate are underway with former President Donald Trump winning big at the first caucus in Iowa. The next one is in New Hampshire next week.

Ice and snow are closing schools in the UK, which had its the coldest night in almost 15 years. Schools are shut in northern England and Scotland, where temperatures have gone down to 5 degrees Fahrenheit, that’s minus 15 Celsius.

It was even colder in the US when an NFL game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Miami Dolphins was played at -4 Fahrenheit that’s -20 Celsius. Yes, it was the coldest game that the Kansas City stadium ever hosted. Not surprisingly, the Chiefs beat their Florida rivals.

And people in an Icelandic fishing town evacuated their homes just in time after a volcano erupted. Luckily, no one was hurt when the lava set fire to several homes and buildings.

[SOURCE: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-68000227







LEELA: Well, thank you so much for that – wait for it… that whippity-whappity-zippity-zappity wrap of what’s making headlines elsewhere in the world, Mama.

MAMA: Whippity-whappity-zippity-zappity wrap do you think anybody knows what you are saying besides me. Well, that was my total pleasure, Leela. I missed doing that while we were away…

LEELA: I know. I missed my whippity-whappity bit too!

MAMA: And now it’s time for…

NATURE STING – VARIOUS VOICES: “The call of nature. Get on your safari suite. Or squeeze into your scuba gear. And get ready to hop into a jeep. Or submarine. Submarine. Because Mother Nature is calling! Nature.”  

MAMA: So this follows on a bit from a subject we did at the end of the year we – just over a month ago we did an episode on all sorts of things that can capture carbon.

LEELA: As in carbon dioxide

MAMA: Yes, CO2 as in –

LEELA: The deadly gas that we humans have put into the atmosphere over the past 100 years or so with our factories and cars, heating and air conditioning…

MAMA: Yes, all the things that have made life more pleasant, but with so many of us on the planet using them…

LEELA: It’s not good for Mother Earth.

MAMA: No. Not a that kind of density. So, if you remember in that episode, we talked about a direct air carbon capture system from the U.S. that uses sheets of limestone rock, which acts like sponges, to suck CO2 out of the air.

LEELA: Right, I remember. And there was also the special kind of bacteria from an Italian volcano that can remove CO2 from the air really fast.

MAMA: Called cyanobacteria, that is right. And now there’s more.

TOP-UP TIME STING – VARIOUS VOICES: “Go on give me a top up, please? It’s top-up time. Top-up time! Top-up time! Top-up time! Top-up time! Top-up time! Now? Yeah, now. It’s top-up time.”

MAMA: Ok, so this isn’t a direct top up, but it’s some news on the same subject.

LEELA: Do tell!

MAMA: Okay, geologists – as in people who study the Earth – from MIT have discovered that a special clay on the bottom of the sea removes so much CO2 from the air that it can cause an ice age to start!

LEELA: Whoa! Well, I guess, and ice age is one way to beat global warming. But ummm we don’t really want an ice age, do we?

MAMA: No, of course not. But we might want some of that clay that’s called smectite.

LEELA: Ah yes! Smectite! Uh… Just kidding. I have no idea what smectite is.

MAMA: Well, the smectite is made when volcanos erupt or during plate tectonics. As in when the earth’s tectonic plates – which are roughly the seven continents – move away OR towards each other.

LEELA: Huh, yeah, aren’t they constantly moving? I mean SLOWLY but steadily.

MAMA: Well, I don’t know about steadily, but it’s true they are moving. And WHEN that happens, rocks sometimes come up to the surface of the ocean, or with volcanos, rocks are spewed out from the top of it. These special rocks undergo a transformation over time over lots of time, gaining valuable minerals, that turn it into clay.

LEELA: Wow! Don’t ya just love nature?!

MAMA: Oh, yeah. And – get this – when that clay settles back into the ocean, scientists have discovered is it’s like a little accordion…


LEELA: You mean that stretchy keyboard instrument thing?

MAMA: Yep. So, scientists have discovered that CO2 gets trapped in the folds of the “accordion” smectite clay. So much so, in fact, that they think large quantities of smectite may have sparked the ice ages!

LEELA: What? Special clay created an ice age!

MAMA: Yep. Another example of Mother Nature self-regulating!

LEELA: So, I guess the idea is – if that’s happened before… maybe innovators could figure out some way to mimic it?

MAMA: Well, not only does this discovery help us know more about Earth but does open up new ideas for strategies to trap CO2 and cool our warming planet.

LEELA: Well, I’d say that’s super cool. Get it… cool…?!

MAMA: Oh, yeah – nice one!

[SOURCE: https://news.mit.edu/2023/mineral-produced-plate-tectonics-global-cooling-effect-1130


LEELA: And finally, let’s see what the lucky dip machine has for us this week.

ODDBALL STING – VARIOUS VOICES: “Step right up, step right up… Have a go at the lucky dip machine… What’s it gonna be today, eh? An oddball, no doubt!”

LEELA: So, today’s oddball is from Singapore, in Southeast Asia.

MAMA: Ah, just across the water from us. It’s actually an island nation, did you know? It’s just a city, well, a city-state.

LEELA: Thank you. It’s also one of the world’s richest yet smallest countries! And, boy, do they have a lot of rules!

MAMA: I know – I used to live there! No gum-chewing. No jaywalking. As in cross the street OUTSIDE the official white lines at intersections.

LEELA: Yes. That’s right. If you´re caught doing that, you have to pay a fine.

MAMA: Yep. And if you´re caught bringing gum into the country at the airport, or if you´re caught spitting out your gum on the sidewalk, you have to pay a fine.

LEELA: And while we’re at it, you absolutely cannot feed the pigeons. If you´re caught doing it, you have to…

MAMA: Let me guess. Pay a fine?

LEELA: That’s correct! But recently, another one of Singapore’s strict rules was reversed. The most RIDICULOUS of all their rules, if you ask me.

MAMA: OK – I’m asking you – what rule?

LEELA: The rule that you CAN’T have a cat as a pet if you live in a government-ownded apartment – which most Singaporeans do.

MAMA: Whatttt? That’s crazy. You mean there was a time in Singapore when it was ILLEAGAL to have a pet cat in your apartment?

LEELA: I know. Crazy and inhumane I’d say. But, yes, it was illegal for people who live in government built high-rises just because – get this – cats shed their fur, which was deemed messy, and they make a lot of noises when mating or fighting, which was deemed as unpleasant. Whatever!

MAMA: Ha! I mean, caterwauling, as that strange loud noise is called, is rather, ummm, I mean… unpleas…

LEELA: A small price to pay for the adorable love and elegance a cat can bring to your life. And I’m not the only one who feels this way. Last year, the government did a survey and found that 9 out of 10 people living in the government hi-rises thought cats should be allowed as pets. So – I’m very, very happy to report that the government has changed the law!

MAMA: Oh, wonderful. Well, I have to say, this oddball story was right up your alley. Along with all your alley cats… Get it?

LEELA: Yes… I get it… A pun is almost as pleasant as a caterwaul.

[SOURCE: https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/singapores-clandestine-cats-can-soon-legally-call-city-state-home-2024-01-03/]

FAB FACTS STING – LEELA: “And it’s time to wrap up the podcast with the top five fab facts heard today. Here goes…”

MAMA: FAB FACT NUMBER 1 – All over South Asia people are celebrating winter sun harvest festivals, which comes a couple weeks after the Winter Solstice, which represents what?

The shortest day and longest night of the year, when the Earth’s tip is furthest away from the sun.

LEELA: FAB FACT NUMBER 2 – Lohri is the name of the winter sun harvest festival in the northern Punjab region. But what is the name of the winter sun festival in the western region of South Asia?

Makar Sankranti

MAMA: FAB FACT NUMBER 3 – Geologists from MIT discover that a special clay on the bottom of the sea removes so much CO2 from the air that it can cause an ice age to start! What do geologist study again?

The Earth

LEELA: FAB FACT NUMBER 4 – And what is this special clay is called?


MAMA: FAB FACT NUMBER 5 – The island city-state of Singapore has lifted its ban on cats living in high-rise public housing complexes. Hurray! But why had they banned cats in a first place?

They shed and make strange noises called caterwauling.

And don’t forget, if you want to test yourself later on, then go to the Lucky Dip page of our website,  newsypooloozi.com, that’s pool-o-o-z-i, and take this quiz online in your own time!

LEELA: And that brings us to the end of this episode of Newsy Pooloozi – which was produced by Leela and by me with help in writing from Julie Noce and Sahasra Sridhar and of course help from our production assistant, Jyoti Chauhan.

MAMA: Don’t forget – we’re changing our news cycle and will upload a new podcast every OTHER week from now on.

LEELA: And we’re also expanding our team!

MAMA: We want new kid correspondents – hopefully those who will suggest stories from their geographies –

LEELA: That would be ANYWHERE in the world.

MAMA: Yep, and or want to report on their or areas of interest. And write the first draft!

LEELA: Just send us a voice note stating your name, age, where you live and were you’re originally from if it’s different and 3 interesting facts about you.

MAMA: Email the voice note to contact@newsypooloozi.com. That’s p-o-o-l  o-o-z-i.com

LEELA: Easy-peasy, right? OK then, see you next week in the happy, splashy giant Newsy Pooloozi!