Kerala: Coffers empty, specials off arts festival menu amid financial crunch

The government has also not earmarked any extra fund for special dishes.
A contestant being served food at the school arts fest held in Kozhikode last year | File pic
A contestant being served food at the school arts fest held in Kozhikode last year | File pic

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The menu of the 62nd Kerala School Kalolsavam, the arts festival, has become the latest casualty of the state’s ailing finances. Unlike previous years, the food served at the fest, which kicks off in Kollam on Wednesday, will be devoid of special dishes prepared by veteran culinary expert Pazhayidom Mohanan Nampoothiri who returns as the fest’s main chef.

Pazhayidom, who prepared special desserts — usually some differently-flavoured payasam — as his signature dish in the fest’s previous editions, told TNIE that only regular Kerala sadya and dishes listed by the government will be served to attendees this time around. The government has also not earmarked any extra fund for special dishes.

“Only ordinary sadya and menus included in the official list prepared by the government will be served. We will not be preparing special or surprise dishes owing to the financial crunch faced by the government. However, we will serve routine sadya with different types of payasam on all five days of the fest,” said Pazhayidom, who had quit as head chef following the row over the absence of non-vegetarian food in the fest’s menu last year.

“I usually charge Rs 170 to Rs 240 per sadya outside. For the fest, its rate will be lower,” he said. Officials of the fest’s food committee refused to reveal their budget, saying it was confidential.

Crowd will be smaller this time: Pazhayidom

“We can’t divulge details of the budget,” said Paravoor Sajeeb, vice-chairman of the food committee. Sajeeb said the customary start to food preparation will be done at 11am on Wednesday with the boiling of milk in Pazhayidom’s presence. Craven LMS High School in Chinnakada, the venue where food will be served, can seat 2,200 people at a time, he said.

“We expect 20,000 people for lunch, 10,000 for dinner and 8,000 for breakfast everyday. Though there are financial issues from the government’s side, there will be no compromise on the number of items served. Different types of payasam will be served during lunch,” Sajeeb said.

Pazhayidom said he expects a smaller crowd this year than 2023, when the fest was organised in Kozhikode. “We expect at least 15,000 people on a single day. Of them, 10,000 would be participants. Last year in Kozhikode, more than 20,000 people came on a single day. This was due to north Kerala’s affection for arts, culture, and food. Based on my 16 years of experience, I can say that here in south Kerala, the crowd arriving to enjoy the fest will be somewhat smaller. However, we are ready to serve food to all,” said Pazhayidom, who will reach Kollam on Wednesday.

No room for row: Pazhayidom
Terming last year’s controversy over the fest’s vegetarian-only menu as water under the bridge, Pazhayidom said the issues were resolved. “Though I had decided to quit, those who had criticised me later approached me and requested that I don’t end my association with the fest. So, I decided to continue. There is no room for controversies,” he said.

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