So, this September we both decided to fly down to Kerala to celebrate Onam in God’s own country. We were head over heels, counting down days and making plans. All worked out and we landed on the first day of Onam. We hired a cab from the airport to her small town. The paddy fields, lakes, coconut palms and greenery were truly a visual treat to the eyes…
The scene was excellent until reality started to unfold before our eyes… Her first disappointment was when she saw that there was no ‘Pookalam’ laid out in front of her house… it took her some time to digest that they now had to buy flowers at a high cost for that purpose. Too tired and hungry to protest, we decided to freshen up and rushed to indulge in steaming hot ‘sadya’ and paysam (kheer)…Well, our hunger quickly died out when we discovered that the empty table and lack of food aroma in the house was because the caterer was late to deliver food. She refused to listen to what her family had to say about assigning Onasadya to the hotel that had the best paysam and most number of dishes…..
That took me some years back to a time when I would sit on the kitchen table in my frock, watching my mother cook as I munched away on the fried coconut slices. I still remember what she used to say about the two humble but essential Onam dishes – When cooking, two things are difficult – to spoil an ‘avial’ and to cook the perfect ‘erissery’. But, now I think this rule is not applicable because to be in business, the hotels better cook tasty food.
This was only the beginning of the surprises that awaited us. We discovered that the man who used to dress up as ‘Mahabali’ passed away few years ago. There was nobody else who took up that role. The boys and men who used to wear costumes for the ‘Puli Kali’ and entertain the locals with their dance steps were missing.. Some of them had moved into cities with secure government jobs and some had become IT professionals with deadlines to meet even on an Onam day. Those who were not lucky in this category took up drama and dance as a profession. This was their peak season when they got even overseas offers.
We decided to walk back home and watch T.V. because her neighbor told us that the celebrations were more elaborate in cities than in their remote area. That was when we came across a news report which stated that Kerala had a record sale of meat during Onam … What !!! Onam and non-vegetarian ??? It just does not match…
So, that means going forward when we sit down for a ‘sadya’, we need not get shocked if we see a chicken roast walk into our banana leaf and excuse itself to create some place between the ‘sambar’ and ‘thoran’ (two buddies from the original menu of Onam dishes)
Hmmm…. this was not what we expected but this was reality experienced in a small town of Kerala.
Are we disappointed? Actually we were but not now..… this change would have come over the last 10-15 years. It is just that inspite of our regular visits to Kerala, we realized it only now. We need to accept that our priorities have changed too.
So, this is Onam of the 21st century.
I know I am late but still, I cannot stop myself from wishing –
My belated hrudayam niranga “ Onashamsakal” to all…….