Posts Tagged ‘onam’

Today I am supposed to be a real Malayali. Malayali is the linguistic title for the residents of Kerala, the southernmost state of India, a tourist hotspot with the assumed name of “God’s own country” (that name, I suspect is an exparte decision), a haven of monsoon forests where you can ride on the swings of heavy raindrops constituting an ethereal thread . It’s the national festival day today: the Onam day. (When I mean national read it as provincial because India itself is a conglomeration of a wide variety of ethnic and linguistic groups well within their geographical confines.  For me it’s a great incidence that India never have had the ill fate of falling on a military government for its upkeep. Our sister land in the immediate west is not so blessed that way.)  A quick google can reveal the exuberance of this remarkable festival to you:  all its colours, noise, folk performance and of course the flyers announcing you what you would probably miss if you miss Onam. In flesh and blood this translates as an amplification of all the inconveniences that a typical Malayali experience in his hometown every single day: conveyance, logistics, and rash drivers honking and raging like a musty tusker bull. Oldies, kids and those with kneejerks wait for a gap to relay them to the other side of the road. As you know, pedestrian crossing is a myth in this part of the world. Special outlets to sell the Onam paraphernalia mushroom up. Shopping carts loaded with greens, tubers, vermicelli, flakes, rice chips, garments, banana leaves to serve the food (not to mention the laminated paper variants if one is not too keen on going for the tongue edge of the banana leaves that tradition stipulates). There used to be a lot of folk games and village jamboree surrounding Onam yesteryears. But no more in that freestyle way, perhaps a local organisation would hold a fete or two with least spontaneity. Nevertheless they will hog the social media with all the mighty displays of their exploits, the paramount of which is the laying of the flower carpet, an intricate floral pattern made of flowers (or if you are cash-strung, stained sawdust or salt crystals would do). Of late so much attention is made to produce complicated and assymetric patterns that the simplicity of what was originally a space in one’s front yard bedecked with flowers which were available in the homestead and fields is entirely compromised. Instead they go for looks that kill, shipping flowers all the way from Bangalore or Tamilnadu just to pamper the irresistible ego of Kerala.

Kerala is a really wet country (more…)


ONAM SADYAThis is a sampling o f the traditional vegetarian cuisine of Kerala, done so elaborately on the Onam days. Onam, has its moorings in Hindu mythology, but with no attention to that Hindu hue all the households in Kerala celebrate these. The heart of the celebration is the Thiruvonam day. The caste differences in Kerala, once dictated that all the days of this celebration shall not be permitted to all. As you move up the echelon, more the days you can relish celebrating Onam and the lower classes had just one day marked for them. A popular adage in malayalam says that “Onam pirannaalum unni pirannaalum Koranu kumpilil thanne kanji” (Even when its onam or the birth of the landlord’s new born, the underdogs (typified in the proper name Koran) could only expect the old ways of their dinner; the gruel which is served in a cone of jackfruit leaf kept in place by a small pit. I personally do not know whether one sides Mahabali,the demon king who was stamped down to the netherworld by Vamana,the incarnation of Lord Vishnu or the latter himself. It is a problem of narratives and interpretations and subaltern views.

Octavio Paz commented that the Indian cuisine is synchronous, as the very many stuff served on the platter bound to be gulped almost together whereas the European cuisine is diachronous, that is why we speak of course dinners. Delicacies comes in a train.

The day before thiruvonam is called Uthradam. An idiom associated with this day is uthradapaachil(the rush in uthrada day) to mark the final rush people makes to the market to procure the goods for celebration. This hints at a day when wages were scanty and irregular, so the common lot had to wait till  the  eleventh hour to garner the resources.

As I was sent to Arunachal Pradesh to spent few months there, it was only a week ahead of Onam. It was going to be the first time Im going to miss Onam, so I thought. Surprisingly, I attended three Onam celebrations with the Malayali(Keralite) community in Seppa. I could never believe that there were so many of us in such a far flung place. At that time I had not come over the travel fatigue and the starangeness of the new environ. Somebody commented that even this considerable number of Malayali I am met with is far below than what it once used to be. My foot!

ps: the photograph is a sanpshot of what my sis evelyn prepared for her onam celebrations in sussex,london. The original meal had many more dishes(legend hooks it at 108) and is a delicate balance of the humours and flavours and rituals. All tastes except umami, of course.