This specially for my friends who are not familiar with the festival Onam , which we celebrate today, here in Kerala. . It’s about three O’clock in the afternoon. Everybody else in the house is taking a post lunch siesta. I love afternoons like this, when the sun is past half its journey across the clear blue skies and begins to lose its aggressiveness and shows an inclination to mellow down. I can relate to its mood much better then.
In the morning my very enthusiastic niece and I had sat down on the verandah to prepare a flower rangoli.
She was a little put off in the beginning because her friend Namanna, living across the street, had managed to have one in place ,very early in the morning itself. But the impish smile came back as she placed the petals carefully one by one , with my help, to make a pattern which did look nice when it was done.
In my childhood there used to be all kinds of small flowers growing in close clusters amongst the weeds in the homestead. Now they’ve all but vanished . So we had to make do with a little bit of flowers from the garden , duly supplemented with leaves cut up into tiny pieces for the green effect .
It brought back my childhood to me instantly. I could ,in a whiff, remember the smell of all kinds of fresh flowers that each class used to heap up ,to make flower rangolis in school . It brought back memories of the almost wild garden we used to have in front of our house , which was my father’s handiwork. Wherever he went, if a new plant caught his eye, he would come back home with a sapling or cutting of it. The garden never had a planned appearance. The new member was given space wherever it was available. But the place used to smell so good around this time with lots and lots of fragrant red roses and all kinds of other flowers. A stream of little children would come and stand in front of our gate, little bamboo baskets in their hands, pleading for flowers for decorating their frontyards with flower patterns. My brother and I would act very pricey then, but I don’t remember refusing anyone. May be we did play favourites. >
It’s harvest time too and the festival must have had its social origins in the rejoicing of spirits after a good crop was brought in. It was a time for feasting , grains and vegetables being available in plenty. It is another story that most of the fields have all been converted into residential areas and the climate too is not what it used to be thanks to the effects of pollution.
But Kerala is still green after the monsoons. So it is not very difficult to create an ambience of those glorious times in our imaginations. Nostalgia can do wonderful things to create illusions and most of us of us Keralites are susceptible to a fault , of wanting to clothe harsh realities with the yarns of our fantasies.
And so we celebrate Maveli’s annual visit in style. There is a traditional lunch , traditionally served on banana leaves. Here at home, none of us are great experts at making vegetarian dishes, at least , it doesn’t quite come out the way our Hindu friends prepare them. The dishes are mostly coconut based, but each panders to a different set of taste-buds on our tongues and palette. Nowadays, these special dishes are home delivered or can be packed and brought home. Sadly, my nephew couldn’t manage to find a place to get us a decent onam lunch. He himself had an invitation to lunch with a friend and so scooted off. As my mother is confined to bed , my sister and I couldn’t have gone visiting . So we had to satisfy ourselves with our own version of the Onam sadya. It was not too bad actually.
The afternoon had a lazy feel to it. So I strolled around the homestead , breathing in the particular smells that I carry with me wherever I go…… ..the smell of wet weeds and the smell of smoke from the dry coconut leaves and coconut husks that we still use in the fireplace at one end of the small verandah at the back of the house, to heat up water for a bath , when it rains .
Also the smell of moss on the compound walls
and the lingering smell of fish fry and pappads and of seasoning with curry leaves and mustard ,wafting through the air.
A group of crows kept pecking at the lunch leftovers
While the cat kept loitering around in the backyard , waiting for a chance to slink into the kitchen.
The house in the neighbouring compound looks lonely and desolate now , almost as if missing our running around and our games and laughter , for if the bunch of us, as kids,were not in our courtyard we would be in theirs. Now it stands there amidst the trees and the wildly growing weeds, all locked up , its inhabitants across the seas.
Change they will, all those circumstances that made our yester-years so rich with memories, as does life from second to second and yet ,there is a certain stream in our consciousness that does not change and we can take a dip in those cool or warm waters as we would want and when we want to if we do not allow the harshness of day to day living to push it too deep down from where we cannot reclaim it ever.
I would deem my life very poor if denied of that blessing of imagination that can take me to my childhood and back again in the interval between a crow’s raucous cawing and the koyal’s sweet beckoning on a lazy afternoon.