Friday, September 08, 2006

A quiet Onam at home in Mhow (MP); India

Niraparayum...Nilavilakkum...Pinne orupidi thumpapoovum, manasil nirachu orupadu snehavumayi veendum onam varavayi... Orayiram Onashamsakal... An SMS sent by a dear friend.

The day before yesterday was Onam. Telephone calls and sms messages. Emails. I missed my brothers, my sisters-in-law and my nieces. And also my uncles, aunts, cousins and my maternal grandmother in our village in Kerala. A retired soldier who belongs to Kerala came home but I was sad to see that he was drunk. I accepted his greetings and greeted him too. Told him that I didn't have the fifty rupees he wanted for 'emergency work'. He came down to ten rupees but I stood my ground. He left with some embarassment on his face. I am sure it wasn't Mahabali testing my ability to recognize him in any form. An ex-classmate landed up at home unannounced. We were meeting after 26 years. Unfortunately he arrived well before any dish was cooked so all I could offer him was a cup of tea. Just before lunch another guest dropped in unannounced. He was lucky enough to sample some of the lovely payasam my mother had made. As he had cycled down he relished every spoonful.

I and my parents celebrated Onam quietly. My mother didn't have the time to do all that she wanted to. So I helped her make a simple floral design on the floor of the verandah. I used a piece of chalk and drew a simple design. Used small green leaves as a base. My mother allowed the maid to help me. I asked her to help me pluck the flowers of the lantana bush from the hedge and then I used that to fill in the petals of the design. Nothing great. But it looked nice. The garden is a profusion of green. Different shades of green. But very few flowers. Because of a bandh I could not go to Phool Chowk and buy marigold flowers as I do every year. We didnt have enough plantain leaves in the garden to use as plates. It is very rare that this happens. We live in a semi-dry area so I must make sure that this doesn't happen next year. I cut a piece off a small one to serve Onam food to the gods in the puja room. We decided to eat the Onam meal in stainless steel plates.

Lunch was a tasty affair. My mother had ordered vegetables the previous day from Qadir bhai in the vegetable market. Qadir bhai knows the malayalam names of almost all vegetables. We had parripu (daal, lentils- for my malayalam-challenged friends), Sambar, Aviyal, Toran made of finely shredded cabbage, Inji curry (also known as inji puli - a tasty curry made of ginger), Pachchadi made with lauki (bottle gourd) in curd, Sharkara Verrati (fried banana pieces dipped in jaggery), Naranga curry (a very tasty pickle of lemons in brine along with pieces of ginger and green chillies, really yum!) and ada prathaman payasam. Now, if you don't know what payasam is then you'd better stop reading this blog post. :)))

My Dad tried to walk with me till the dining table. But he was too weak to walk the full distance so he sat down on a chair in front of the study table in his room and we served him his Onam lunch there. In 1948 he had walked from Leh to Kargil. And then a year later from Kargil to Srinagar. He was a young armyman then. He has so far refused to use a wheel chair. Maybe I should convince him to start using one. In the evening I cycled down to the house of a Kannadiga family with some payasam and bay leaves (curry patta) in a bag. A small gesture full of love and affection which is almot impossible to make during a normal day in our hyperactive lives. A few friends came home in the evening and tasted the lovely payasam. One of them stayed back and had dinner too. He had tasted the Onam food last year too. "The thing I like about your mother's cooking is that the food doesn't feel heavy, no matter how much I eat," he has often commented. I agree. Anyone who hasn't eaten the vegetarian food of Kerala has missed something great. The dishes made for Onam lunch will last another two days. And they get tastier. Or is that my imagination?

A very special friend who lives far away kept in touch with me throughout the day by sms and chat. And that made the day even more special. Here's wishing peace, prosperity and happiness to all of you. Happy Onam.