“Onam is not just a festival to cherish, but a moment to reincarnate a past of prosperity and goodness.”
Day One at Kerala, highly satisfying I would say. After freshening up, I drifted off to sound slumber, waking up only the next afternoon. As I made my way to the bathroom, I could hear the sound of little feet running across the courtyard and the sound of reverberating laughter. This seemed strange to me, as just the day before, I was lulled into a light coma by the silence that enveloped Serah’s quaint home! Curious to find out about the case of the scurrying feet, I stepped out of my room in my pajamas and peered over the balcony that overlooked the courtyard, and almost like a turtle retreats into its shell in the face of danger, I ran back into my room. The courtyard had got a makeover overnight! From plain brown, it was now covered with a huge rangoli made only with flowers and flower petals. Ladies and girls (about my age) wore white silk sarees with rich gold borders. Men wore simple shirts and white lungis. There was a different elegance about the flowers in the hair of the women and also in the way the men held one corner of the lungis and walked effortlessly! I, on the other hand, had a reputation of tumbling over my own two feet even while wearing a ghagra!
“There you are, sleepyhead!” boomed a voice from behind me. I turned behind and saw Serah, who also had an overnight transformation! Her front hair was lightly braided and the rest of it was left loose. She too had flowers in her hair and was draped in a gorgeous settu saree (as it was commonly known in the south, I later learnt). Smiling, she handed me a packet. “Open it!” she exclaimed, with a grin on her face. The packet contained a white saree with an intricate gold border. It was beyond beautiful!
But no one can escape from the claws of my friend Serah, once she makes up her mind to do something. Me, being a mere mortal, had no choice but to yield to Serah’s demands. Lo and behold! Struggling, I walked down the stairs to the courtyard, where smiling faces greeted me like I was one of their own! Although very clearly the women there were graceful and had probably received God’s own blessing in the department of saree handling, I had been deprived of that very blessing. Little girls too, gracefully ran around and played their game of catch and cook. Women on the other hand had their necks laced with gold jewellery.
It wasn’t long before the women sat down to eat ( matriarchy- more power to you!), and three servers carrying containers of pickles came through. This procedure took place a whole of twenty-five times! I agree, being a North Indian our appetites are unbeatable; but what I did not anticipate was finishing twenty-five dishes in one sitting. Thinking about it now, I’m thankful that our stomachs are elastic! Pickles, chutneys, curries, chips, papad, vegetable preparations in all possible imaginable forms is what was on display in front of me! And just when I thought this could not get any larger, a huge blob of ghee was poured over my rice. Lime pickle, inji thayir (yoghurt spiced with ginger), shakara upperi (banana chips coated in jaggery), boiled rice, dal, avial (mix vegetable in ground coconut). Whew! All this and a lot more formed a varied palette of colours on my green banana leaf.
As I began eating, I realised that this, though a meal that was big in number; by nutrition and health factors, was actually a simple fare. The Onam Sadhya reflected the simplicity of living that the people of Kerala believed in. As I ate, the Onam Sadhya meant a lot more than just a meal. It became a bonding of culture over food. It became a symphony of people’s laughter prompted by a family member’s joke. It became a child’s integration into the family system. It became a melody of voices, sharing their life’s experiences with one another- happy and sad alike. Over everything else, it became my interaction with another corner of India, one that would remain unseen and unknown to me if it wasn’t for this spontaneous trip.
Kerala as a destination meant more than just food and lovely people. Kerala is much much more. You have to experience it first hand for you to know how much is in store for you to explore. My advice to you is: book your air ticket, get your Kerala tour packages and fly off to this wonderful state.
Go ghoomne. God’s own country awaits you.