Onam, a national festival in India, which falls on September 4, brings hordes of tourists to ‘God’s own country’, Kerala.
The week-long cultural events marking the festival of colors kick off on September 3 in the state capital Thiruvananthapuram with traditional dances and music.
For me, Onam is very special as it brings back memories of how the festival used to be celebrated decades back.
As children, we used to go on a flower hunt through rain-soaked fields and valleys picking up flowers to lay floral carpets in various patterns in front of our homes.
Girls never joined us in the flower hunt. Instead, they used to stand on the swing and lunge at them, pretending to catch the pumpkin moon that appears during Onam.
Wearing skirts and blouses, they later walked through moonlight glades laughing all the way to the riverfront to bathe.
On the eve of Onam, we used to eagerly watch as our elders made flowers stands and a “granny” out of clay.
The flower hunt, the walk through the glades, the rustle of the skirts and laughter of girls, and toothless smile of the granny in clay remain memories now. Things have changed over the years.
Now children don’t go on a flower hunt. Flowers come in bulk to markets where they are sold for a high price. However, one can still see girls swinging and dancing in some remote villages. The flowers stands and granny in clay have been replaced by ready made figures made of wood.
Among other things that suffered change were the full-throated cries rising from homes welcoming Onam at the crack of dawn. Now silence reigns after morning prayers.
My early recollections of Onam take me to the banks of Bharathapuzha river near Shornoor where, as a five-year old boy I stood bare-bodied shivering in the morning breeze after bath.
With my eyes shut, I can still see my young mother talking merrily with friends as they bathed. I can also feel the gaze of the pale moon and the quietness of the riverside. Though I wanted to visit the banks again, it never happened as my father was transferred to another place. Now I painfully look at the dry river bed while passing by in a train.
Another fond memory associated with Onam is associated with my grandfather when he makes one of his rarest visits to kitchen to make banana chips.
With baited breadth, we watched him perform. Nobody was allowed to interfere with his work which he raised to the level of an art. The aroma which filled the kitchen still comes wafting in with memories of him as he stood near the kitchen stove gently stirring the neatly-cut banana chips in a gargantuan vessel, his head bent down and face aglow.
My great grandmother with golden hair cooked mouth-watering pudding for me during Onam. She also helped us in laying floral carpets. These days, families don’t make banana chips or puddings at home. They buy it from hotels.
My great grandmother passed away during one Onam. I can still see her toothless smile as she joked and laughed with children.
If some memories of Onam are wet with tears, others are drenched in rain as we played football on the temple grounds madly running, kicking, slipping and falling.
The last time I visited the temple, the grounds were weedy and wild. Children have ceased to play there. They are now busy with computer games at home.
Yes, the world is changing and every Onam comes as a grim reminder of this sad truth.