DURBAN: 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 fairy-tale setting with lights, drapes, fine tablecloths and overlays.
Shereen Pillay, a relative from Cape Town, organised an official photographer to record the gathering.