Sitting at my desk since morning, picking my brain in an effort to write a few words. Subject – my memories of Onam. While I can’t even conjure up a single one, blame it on the memory. Ask a true blue Malayali and they’ll have countless stories right up their sleeve, from childhood to the present, like a treasure trove. It takes them back home to all those cherished memories with friends, families and the indispensable food.
My only recollection is of a celebration three Onam’s ago, when we all were under the same roof after age’s. I remember waking up that morning to the smell of freshly ground spices lurking in the air. My mother all worked up and frenzied, cooking up concoctions on every stove available at her disposal, reminding me of a Harry Potter movie . No one dared to disturb her, or else face the wrath.
I slowly made my way out unnoticed, into the dining, where sat my fully pregnant sister, munching on the freshly fried banana chips. One can’t expect anything less from a lady in her third trimester. Ignoring her eating prowess, my eyes wandered around searching for the other beings of the house.
Found my father sitting outside in the veranda, pondering over the newspaper be-musingly, clearly not delighted with the events of the world. Pretending to be engaged in reading, lest he shall be called in for work.
Moving away from the glaring morning light, adjusting my eyes to the insides. I see the youngest of the lot; my brother, in his usual stance atop the sofa, almost mimicking a yoga pose. Shavasana I presume. Browsing through all channels one after the other, unable to decide where to pause.
The one day when T.V channels know, they can earn some extra pennies from racking up crowd favourites. Be it the candid chat shows, super-hit movies, or another lot of cooking shows, all including everyone’s favourite celebrities. Everything has a taker just like my vain brother on the sofa. If he ever decides on one.
After witnessing enough drama for a day, I finally start up on my chores, which mostly included cleaning the house. Never a fan of this part, but given the circumstances and the only helping hand around demanding help herself, I had no choice but to succumb.
Once finished, I decided to enter the potion master’s chamber again to see the progress and hopefully taste a few. She was submerged in grinding a paste with her beloved mortal and pestle, every Malayali mothers secret to yummy curries I reckon.
I roamed around looking over each dish, smelling each, waiting for her permission to taste which she granted. Like a car, racing through a green signal I ran towards the stove, trying one dish at a time, savouring in the flavours of the inji curry(ginger gravy), pachadi(a traditional side dish), parippu curry(lentil gravy), pulissery(curry made with buttermilk). Critiquing at a minimum, else you’ll awaken the toiling monster. Everything cooked to perfection as usual.
Excited for the lunch to follow, traditionally served in a banana leaf, we stepped out to fetch some. She cut up exactly five leaves with precision, reminiscing of the times when she would host a whole platoon(literally) of guests during Onam, needing a whole bunch more. Dad would send out his troops foraging in the campus for these leaves which were seldom. Mum eagerly waiting to receive and clean them before anyone arrives.
I remember the excitement as a child those days, welcoming all the friends and families, setting up the banana leaves in rows, distributing each dish with an explanation(which I myself barely knew).
The faces of those satiated guests would elevate my mother to another level. Her work being appreciated and applauded. Her shy smile and glowing eyes said it all.
Coming back to the present, we head back into kitchen with our leaves and clean them. Finished up with the final touches, I excuse myself out; after all the scrubbing & rubbing, a bath was essential . No one sits in a sadhya without cleaning up and adorning new attire.
Finally, its noon and the salivating mouths start hovering around waiting to be fed. I help mother in setting up the Onasadhya (the traditional meal) for all, starting with the side dishes( chips, pickles, pachadis and the likes) to the mains (rice with a whole range of gravies and veggies),ending with the payasam(sweet pudding). Its all served.
Without a moments notice, everyone starts devouring the lip-smacking food in front of them. When suddenly, I notice something missing. Innocently, I ask “Amma, chammandi ileee?” (Mother, you didn’t prepare chutney?). Out came a flying chappal(slipper)from the potion master’s chamber.
Rest of the afternoon is a little blurry in my head, blame the memory I guess.