September 2014, it was when I was composing an email to my office colleagues in the US, the thought occurred to me that they did not know anything about the festival Onam and for me to convey what it is all about will be boring them out with an two page essay which they are bound to ignore. So I decided to tell them what is the spirit of Onam ? I did what every sensible person with a computer does these days, opened Google and searched for spirit of Onam. I clicked on a link that looked promising and to my joy this one had various pictures posted by a young photographer who has captured the various festivities like the Pookalam, the Thirvathirakalli (a dance form performed by women), Pulikali (a routine where people paint Tiger images all over the body and a hunter), the vallomkali (or the boat race). I thought to myself, yes this is it, this is what it feels like to be home on this festival. Feeling satisfied that this will be best way to tell the story, I sent the email across and started my preparation to go home.
Onam is a major festival celebrated by Keralites (from Kerala) everywhere. My brother and sister in law had planned to join me for my journey back home to Kerala and give a surprise to my parents, who were expecting only me and my wife for this year. It was for the first time, after my marriage, all of us will be home together on this special day.
And so it was, that on the evening of a rainy 6th of September, me and my wife opened the front gate and walked into my house to see my beaming dad, mom, uncle and aunt. No wonder they were ecstatic, when behind us walked my brother and sister in law. It was a day, probably after 4 years, we were all under the same roof and I was glad to be there. The next day started with everyone exchanging new clothes and a sumptuous feast. I remembered, the last time the house was so noisy probably when me and my brother as kids were running around the house, years back. This came close, with the excited chatter and laughter, as though everyone is trying to speak out as many words was possible, in a shot span of time.
Finally, the day arrived, when my visit came to an end , and with a heavy heart I started traveling back to my busy city life. As my car sped through the back roads on the way back, I was trying to recall every happy moment that we had back home. This was quiet a different experience for me from the previous years and I believe for many Keralites nowadays as well. All Onam days start off with heavy shopping. New designs of saree, jewelry, shirts and trousers hit the market and so does all the other shops giving lucrative discounts on cars and household items. And then we have quiet number of people, who decide to patiently wait in front of liquor shops despite the rain to celebrate the event. All the TV channels prepare for the festival like no other, with programs like interviews with famous film stars, new movies, telecast of live events like the Pulikali and Vallomkali, comedy shows and the popular one, where lot of Television stars sit together and discuss about how they used to celebrate Onam. Then, there are new movies that get released . It was these days which everyone waited for. So is this the spirit of Onam, I thought, everyone wants to be at their best and doing what they want to do to enjoy themselves.
And I immediately saw the irony. Except for the essential clothes that we got and probably the feast that we had at home, I had not done any of the things that we are supposed to do for Onam. We missed all the “good” programs that were coming on TV, my mom did the Pookalam in the morning that I missed. And I did not have enough pictures to post on Facebook , where we were seen doing the things which we are supposed to do on Onam. All I had ,was some family photographs and a capture of various expressions of people clicked randomly, while we laughed and talked.
I turned and looked at my wife, who was smiling to herself, lost in some thoughts of the previous days. And then I knew, I had my answer. Yes, I had missed all the programs on TV, did not watch the movies, lost out on all the discounts and did not even buy any new equipment at home, but I remembered every moment that I spend the previous few days. I remember the smiles, I remember what we talked and it felt good to think about them again and again , a deep rooted desire to be in the same place, same circumstances again and again.
It was wonderful. I don’t care how some film star celebrated his Onam, that is his/her memory and I want my own. To be with the ones, whom you really love and to live every moment, however short it may be. Perhaps our ancestors decided to celebrate this festival for this special reason. A time for everyone in the family to come together and bond with each other. All the so called festivities and the events that are part of the season, is for one and only reason. People are social beings, irrespective of all the differences that they have, when they come together for as small a task as plucking flowers or cooking or dancing, they forget their differences, bond and really enjoy each others company. It is not important what the activity was , it was important that everyone enjoyed doing it, more like the competitions that happen in preschools, where everyone is a winner. Having fun was important, and so is the feeling of togetherness.
It is the same spirit that many other festivals share like Christmas. It is not about presents or Santa Claus or the food, it is about togetherness, bonding. That is the spirit of Onam as well. When I looked back I can remember only the bond and the togetherness that we shared. Irrespective of what festival that you celebrate, it is important to understand the simple fact, people have the spirit and not the activities themselves.