We are a set of lives whose compass in life always points to television, the internet, Instagram and all other new age tools made available to mankind…and this reference holds good for Onam – the festival of the Malayalees.
Our mental makeup is seasoned to think of Onam in the way it has been marketed by the saree and jewellery giants …, by the television shows that swarm the scene during Onam and the like.. The visual impact permeates into your conscience and unknowingly you sway to the tunes of Onam in the way it has been scripted by the gods of consumerism.
So when Onam is round the corner, the shopping spree and discount melas take precedence over the festival itself – from washing machines to tube lights – there are “special Onam discounts” and e-commerce, pamphlets and mega shops are smeared with almost daunting images of “pookalam” and “maveli”. So the righteous legendary king maveli is now reduced to a brand image that can be freely used without copyright or trademark hassles…and sometimes sadly into a comic caricature by the comedians of the state…the tenets of his rule which is of course not relevant in today’s world of crony politicians have also been conveniently buried underground…almost like maveli himself was pushed underground as legend would tell us from childhood.
And then there is the barrage of Onam movies and Onam shows on TV..where the who’s-who (literally as the audience is also left guessing on who these are) of any field would be roped into random shows and interviews…the yawning charade where a wonderfully made up celebrity with her neatly adorned saree and fresh flowers would showcase her “sadhya” making skills or ”pookalam” skills..personally, these shows badger your self-confidence….who looks like that in real life when you actually steam in the kitchen trying to get that “payasam” right? And as for pookalam, the innovative and creative designs whipped up for pookalam contests leaves you staring forlornly at your skeletal… “almost- round but nearing square shaped” pookalam ! And if that is not all, there is the scripted interviews where no interviewer and interviewee can come out of the “box”…it will mandatorily start with the nostalgic Onams of the interviewee’s childhood and then move to the busy Onams that the interviewee celebrates on “sets” followed up by the current Onam with family (after a very long time…pardon my question… didn’t they say the same thing last Onam as well?) and ends with the current “Onam projects” that the audience needs to watch out for…if that is not creative enough, a “pseudo-natural” peek into celebrity houses and kitchens and family sadhyas is all that the television can upgrade to!
When you cut out all the noise and marketing, what is the festival really about? A time when a Malayali family decides to come together, a break from the push-pull routines of work, school and home, a day when you connect with flowers, colours, food and family…The joys of plucking dew covered flowers from your garden, your experiments with the pookalam that inevitably takes an adamant shape of its own, the bonding when family members argue, collaborate and decide on the right pattern for your pookalam and the sadhya platter.. savouring the fruits of yours (or your mother’s mostly) labour…a multi-dish feast on the banana leaf..and the nirvana of “palada”..a truly sensory blast – colourful sights of pookalams and the elegant charm of cream and golden bordered sarees and mundus.. the whiff of simmering milk that engulfs your house..and the afternoon siesta as the feast starts its difficult assault of digestion within..!
A generation that has grown up only watching Onam on TV somehow is at a loss to understand what Onam stands for..and our rich art and dance forms that are powdered and showcased on stages always stands apart from your average household Onam…but it doesn’t take away one bit of its charm and ethnicity…maybe that’s all there is to Onam…to come home…to your tradition, food, fauna, flora, family and fine arts & dance!
As for me, I count the days to the coveted “Onam journey ticket” I purchased to go home (a feat on its own) and my homecoming to good earth, food and people!