As we become adult and move away from home, leaving behind beautiful experiences, memories give us strength to outlive, preserve our nostalgia for a whole epoch. People back home may never value preciousness of these pearls that colour our imagination and enrich our personalities. It does not hold much significance today as majority of the festivities are on the telly than with real people amid nature.
I remember the post-monsoon period bringing numerous colours and changes in our lives—much-awaited sunshine, anticipation of a decent harvest and start of annual temple festivals. Warm gala lit twilights announced the advent of the supreme carnival—Onam. Attractions of this timeless tradition were floral decorations, arrival of relatives, mother’s mouth-watering meal that comprised at least 20 dishes and new attires for all.
More than these qualities, I became enticed to the mind-boggling legend behind Onam, marking the homecoming of King Mahabali, considered the golden period of our mythology. The king educated his son on simplicity, fairness regardless of caste, truthfulness and fidelity; these were stories we were brought up listening to as kids. He was our hero and we always thought of his qualities as the benchmark for an ideal human being.
For a Londoner, several of these traditions were alien and our people never shared the vibrant Indian culture with the locals until recently. In fact that was one of the first features we presumed as a business and role to demonstrate best of India through our restaurant.
There was nothing more relevant to people than bringing along the illustrious Onam celebrations with music, dance and the customary feast served on banana leaf. We have been offering the taste of this incredible festival every year since 1994 and observed most amazing reactions from people, unexplainable joy of feeling real India in London.
Progress of Malayali organisations and Onam being the highly prominent festival irrespective of religious disparities makes sense to pick this event as the occasion for annual get-together, when you live away from home.
Lately, the tradition is to play the character of Mahabali. Dressed up in a colourful outfit, the King receives and blesses folks. Someone with unusually large belly is chosen to play the character of the King. With a traditional umbrella (made of dried coconut leaves), he walks around the crowd amid loud cheers from the people. I wish they could go one step further, have an awareness campaign to teach youngsters from the story of this great ruler. Children would love listening to his unconditional loyalty to his subjects and the way he made heaven on earth.
As I swam away in the stream of a siesta and arrived at the shoreline of a dream, it brought back the sweetest scene of children walking up the hills, collecting flowers, joyously playing through holiday period in anticipation of the smiling King visiting home on Onam day to taste Amma’s special sweets. I could remember the colourful tiger play and ball game at home with our father (only at Onam!). A feeling of ecstasy has filled my thoughts much before September 7, which is real Onam day this year.
Onam was never a festival just for commemoration, instead a revisit of virtues and bonds, a gentle reminder of godliness in every human being; it made us believe happiness lies in our unity and ability to share our prosperity.
The author is a London-based restaurateur who owns the Rasa chain of restaurants