Onam for sale
‘Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad’.
It is true that for some people, the past never seems to hold any memories worth treasuring. Nor is there a pause in their daily grind to let them worry about what their future holds in store for them. For, it takes them all of their present to grapple with the grim business of everyday survival.
“We are what we remember” writes Rebecca Rupp in her book, ‘Committed to Memory’. I have vivid recollections of my childhood and growing up. I cherish them as life’s treasured moments. The best part of my life. Must have been the times I had with my parents and siblings, growing up in the middle of a big family, striving to keep ends meet. This had its advantages. I had lots of free time. To do things I liked to do. I could go to the stream in front of our house, which used to run clean water most of the time, except when it was rainy. And watch the small “parel meens” swimming, making futile attempts to catch them with my torn thorthu mundu. I could spend endless time playing in the rain. The small tin drain which used to run along the edges of the roof tiles, would bring the rain water splashing on to you. What a feeling ! I would make paper boats to float in the rain water, and watch them dancing along the flow, to distant places, don’t know where.
The variegated splash of colors of the butterflies, each showing off its characteristic squiggles and dots and radiating lines all symmetrically arranged , fluttering among the greenery, was fascinating. At night, I would look on in wonder at the myriads of fireflies winking against the backdrop of dark and looming trees, making them all look like so many silhouetted Christmas trees strung up with fairy lamps. During harvest, as I occasionally romped carefree beside the streamlets that ran along the paddy banks, I would suddenly stop to dip cupped hands in and pick up the wriggly tadpoles and the delicate little fishes or paral meen that abounded there only to throw them all back in, being curious no more. I could, thus lead an absorbing life in a delicate world of fantasy.
The ever-present hibiscus or the chemparathi, the sweet smelling jasmine or the mulla poove, the not-so-sweet-smelling periwinkle or the shavam naari, the many hued bougainvillea or the divine chethi poove and thumpa the flower of Gods adorned almost all front yards. They are all.. long gone. And then there were the mango trees in season. It was customary for the children of the family to try to outrun one another in the mornings to scramble for the mangoes that lay strewn all around. And, after having picked the ‘fallen’ ones, they would fling stones and other missiles with uncanny aim at the reluctant fruit that had ‘refused’ to come down the night before.
Thatches are not a common sight any longer. Nor is the early-morning haze of smoke hugging the thatch that slowly diffuses like a mist cover as the heat of the sun lifts it. The smell of the fragrant wood smoke that rises from the new palm-frond thatch is a mere memory now. And, what of the smell of earth made fresh after the previous night’s rain especially in the mornings when the house begins to stir before the sun is up? No longer are the homemakers up and about so early to kindle a fire in the kitchen and start their long-drawn-out chores and keep the home fires burning all day long and well into the night. These days, they have in their modern, almost smokeless kitchens home appliances that help dice, mix, blend and cook dishes in large quantities at the mere touch of a button. We save time and labour, no doubt, but no longer can we enjoy the taste of freshly cooked dishes at every meal as we once used to. Refrigerators have put paid to that joy.
The thatched cattle sheds or Erithil are disappearing too, as are the farms and the farm animals. The sweet-smelling haystacks that gave any village its distinctive stamp are also slowly on the way out.
Thease are all part of my Onam memories. Because I cant think of Onam in another environment. It was full of fun , frolic and freedom.Onam examination was a welcome hurdle,because of the holidays that followed. The feeling was exciting and worth waiting for. Thattukali, Kutti Kol , Panthu kali, Kabadi kali… I don’t even think the new generation knows such games existed. Everything is drowned in an idiotic game called cricket. Puttu kadala, idli sambar, Aappom kari, have given way to sandwiches and corn flakes. And then, where is the relevance of a meal on a banana leaf, for name sake? What feeling or excitement do you get out of it? Waiting in the queue for the chance to sit down for an Onam meal in star hotels, people often forget what was the spirit of Onam.
The asianet Maveli is on tour on a decorated Tata truck, and is being received by politicians and local leaders,who want to get photographed. The government is selling Onam packets through maveli stores. Cherian Philip vows to sell more payasom this year than liquor.Star hotels are receiving advance bookings for Onam lunch. Pay a little extra..and a Maveli can come to your house also.There are hotels offering non vegetarian Onam special meals, with fish and mutton( Maveli , I am sure,will get a stomach upset).And there are Onam discounts at all the stores.What more do you need?
It can never come back. And it cannot be the same Onam. Because, everything around us have changed. There are no more clean landscapes, no peaceful villages, no rivers, no flowers, and then, no one has got the time to spend. It is Onam in a packet. Eat your Onam, drink to your limits… and go to sleep.