Posted by: gdevi | August 24, 2010

Happy Onam

Yesterday, August 23rd was Onam in Kerala. Like Vishu, Eid and Christmas, Onam is the other big festival in Kerala. It also marks the height of the second harvest season in Kerala. I called my parents to wish them Happy Onam; just the two of them now, plus our old help Baby, and one of my aunts. Amma still makes the nice big Onasadya–the big noon feast–so delicious to us when we were kids. All of these festivals feel so special when you are a kid. I wish Dayani could experience these things the way I did. Well, the preparations for Onam start ten days before the actual Onam day–which according to our calendar falls on the star of Thiruvonam in the month of Chingam–or August-September–which was this monday. ( I misplaced the Hindu calendar somewhere here. Oh well.) Onam technically begins on the star of Attam ten days prior to Thiruvonam. We mark this day, the start of Onam, by waking up early in the morning, taking our baths, sweep and then purify a small section of the front yard with cow dung and water and drawing the attapookkalam. Pookkalam is a carefully constructed round shape that you draw on the ground; on this first day of Onam, you make a small mound on the ground–the center of the pookkalam–and another ring layer surrounding it with a mixture of sand and cow dung. (Modern pookkalams dispense with the cow dung part; we had to when we were kids.) Then you cover this ring around the center with flowers–yellow or red flowers for this first layer. On the second day of Onam, you wake up in the morning, bathe, and then add one more layer to this flower mound. What we used to do was the previous evening we used to go from house to house or just in the open areas and pick all kinds of flowers to use the next morning. So you make a second layer and decorate it with flowers the second day. Third layer on the third day decorated with flowers. Fourth layer on the fourth day, fifth on the fifth day etc. Till on the tenth day–day of Tiruvonam, we get a beautifully decorated flower mound covered with all kinds of flowers fresh and colorful. Here is a picture I found on the net. (Thanks good people!) We used to make things like this; it was fun.

Other perks for Onam were the “Onakkodi”–everyone got brand new clothes. On Tiruvonam day, we would all wake up early, bathe, eat breakfast and all kinds of sweetmeats that magically appear about this time, then go out to play in our brand new clothes, while mothers (and fathers sometimes) cooked the big noon lunch. One Onam day, I got this beautiful skirt–big green flowers on an orange background–go figure!–orange blouse with these beautiful puffed sleeves–beautiful skirt and blouse–and we were playing out in the front yard. We had these sort of tall gates on the compound wall and amma used to tell us kids never to climb them. The gate must have been about six foot tall. Well, we thought –Appu and I and several of the neighborhood kids–that it would be fun to climb the gate that morning. The gate had these black metallic rungs that looked really inviting to climb, sort of like a ladder. So we started climbing the gate; it really was fun. Put one foot in front of the other and go up one metal rung at a time until we reached the top and then we climb down. Isn’t it funny what kids find amusing? (For instance, where we live now I find a little boy always try to run his bike over the stones, rocks and driftwood in the creek even when the creek is full! What is he thinking?) So anyway we all went up and down the gate several times. When I fell down what happened was that my long skirt got caught in those ornamental spiky things at the top of the gate and for just a second it felt like I hung there upside down like a bat before my skirt got torn through the spiky thing and I started to fall down. I fell down quickly–and awkwardly I landed on the concrete floor on my right hand. I knew immediately that my wrist was broken. When I got up, my arm sort of hung limply and my wrist looked like it got separated from the rest of my arm. I was in severe pain; fire coming out of my eyes really. Amma heard me scream and ran out from the kitchen and her first response was to pick me up and spank me–why did you climb this gate? Didn’t I tell you all not to climb the gate? Let me see your hand. It is broken. She picked me up and took me inside. Because it was Onam even the hospitals were on some sort of partial hours or something. I could not eat the big feast by myself; I tried, but amma ended up feeding me something. My hand swelled up; red, moist and it was hot to touch where the bone was poking through the flesh. I could see it even though it had not broken my skin. Very painful. We had to wait till evening when the Out Patient window opened up at the Ramakrishna Mission Hospital to get my hand in a cast. I am right-handed so it was great; I did not have to write anything for two months. My friends copied class notes for me. Other Onams were less eventful with plenty of good food, new clothes, and the making of the beautiful flower mounds. Amma told me yesterday that she got onakkodi for Baby and Swami appuppan. Good.  Happy Onam to everyone!


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