More Onam Ramblings

Ever since I could remember, Onam has always been a time of sparkling joy, lively camaraderie and unadulterated fun. Added to that are gastronomical delights and endless round table conferences we have at home. No doubt festivals play a vital role in nurturing relationships and cementing bonds that stand the test of time. So, Onam is a stockpile of a lot of wonderful memories. 

Today, I see vested interests wishing us, Keralites, ‘Vamana Jayanthi’ instead of Onam. All media will be after this today. Analysis, discussions, points of view… However, to me there is no need for any dissection or postmortem. Why, you may ask. 

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I am reminded of a lovely story about the one and only Buddha, that is mentioned in one of Suttas. According to this, there were lots of people who were displeased about Buddha and his discourses. One such clan leader was quite angry that one of his followers had become a disciple of Buddha. Insecure that he will lose his position if more join the fold, he stormed into Buddha’s presence and started hurling insults and calling the Master, choicest abuses.  

Buddha, being Buddha, remained calm and collected. When the man kind of stopped, the Buddha asked him, “Sir, do you get visitors coming to meet you?” 

The man, completely lost at what Buddha was coming at, gruffly replied, “Yes.” 

“Do you also be a perfect host and offer them eats and drinks?”

Carried in the flow of the conversation the man replied, “Yes. Why not?” 

Buddha continued in his serene style, “Suppose, the guests said that they don’t want what you have offered, where will the eats, drinks and courtesies go to?” 

“Back to my pantry and me, of course. They’ll all come back to me and I’ll enjoy them with my family.”

Buddha calmly continued, “If I too don’t accept what you flung at me today, where will they go? I do not accept them. You may take these back. Yes, it is all yours” 

Light dawned on the man. 

It is this story that I want to share with our Vamana Jayanthi wishers, for I feel strongly about it. To me Onam is Mahabali’s homecoming and nothing else. Taking a leaf from Buddha’s story, I do not accept Vamana Jayanthi wishes. You may keep it to yourself. For, if I don’t accept what you give me, it goes back to you.

And, sorry, am not allowing anyone to hijack the myth we have lived with and sanctify a new story. 

Onam Ramblings -2

Onam Ramblings -2

Onam is at a time when Nature is bountiful and beautiful, in the Malayalam month of Chingam (it is in August-September). The festivities begin before 10 days – on the day of Attham star. On the ninth day is the first day of Onam – Uthradom star, 10th day is Thiruvonam (the second day of Onam, by far the most important day), the 11th day is the third Onam (Avittam star) and the 12th day is the fourth day of Onam (Chathayam star). Floral carpets are made in the front courtyard of homes. Back in my home district of Palakkad, some even start laying floral carpets a month earlier, from the 1st of Karkadakom, eagerly anticipating the arrival of Onam.

Traditionally, cow dung is spread and the petals of flowers are laid on it. Many beautiful designs are artistically created with flowers of various hues. I remember that when we had cattle at home, it was easy to get cow dung. Besides, those days our cows were fed with natural food including hay and plenty of grass. Cow dung was vital and auspicious for all kind of festivities – it was used to plaster mud surfaces. The dung evidently was hailed to have a lot of anti-bacterial properties and even considered to be a natural disinfectant. Now, we don’t have cows at home. And the ones who have cows feed it with artificial feeds and very less hay and grass, which are its natural food. Hence, the cow dung procured is of poor quality and it really stinks. Hence we don’t spread cow dung as a base anymore. The morning ritual of plucking flowers for the floral carpet had its share of enthusiasm and fun. Here is a floral carpet that we made.

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Vadamalli (Globe Amaranth), Marigold and Hibiscus floral carpet

We stop making flower carpets from the ninth day – the day of 1st Onam. In Palakkad district we make clay models of Mahabali, called Madevar, and keep it in front of our courtyard. In the past, we used to make the models ourselves on the previous day of the first Onam. All of us, Mummy and all the daughters, join happily in the process. The clay, which is cleared from stones and other impurities, is mixed with the right amount of water. Beating it on stones, and keeping it broad at the base, it is given a tapering shape. The central Madevar is  bigger and the other two, one on each side is of the same size. The threesome are then laid on a wooden seat. The base is decorated with three steps. Then the steps are decorated with mostly Vadamalli or Globe Amaranth (the purple flower in the picture above) or yellow coloured marigolds. Once the steps are done, coconut leaf splinters or Eerkali is pierced onto the top and sides of the wet Madevar. This is done so that it is easy to decorate the Madevar with flowers – by next morning it would dry up and fixing it would be difficult. Besides this set of three, there are 4 smaller Madevars also that are prepared.

The next day, after taking bath, we decorate the sides where Hibiscus and other bigger flowers are fixed on to the splinters. Daddy would get lotus flowers from our pond and these amazing flowers will find a pride of place on the centre of the Madevar. Once this is ready it is time to keep the Madevar in front of our home. Mummy prepares the rangoli dough with rice early in the morning. She grinds it to a fine paste and makes it into such a consistency that she can draw the designs. It is a painstaking affair, but Mummy does it with such remarkable ease and élan. Once the design is done, Mummy reverentially keeps the Madevar in the middle of the design. Then puja is done. On a plantain leaf, banana, flattened rice and jaggery is served. The lamp is lit. Flowers are offered. Coconut is broken. Agarbathis and camphor are lit. This officially marks the beginning of Onam. Food is served to the deity before we eat our lunch and dinner. Mummy still does this very religiously. Salute her spirit and creativity! Our Mom rocks! 🙂

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Mummy creating the rice flour design to house the Madevar

On the Second day is Thiruvonam and we make another set of threesome Madevars and eight smaller ones. This time, Mummy makes a bigger design for this one. Plus we have to move the previous day’s Madevar ahead of the second days’s one. On the third day we make one big clay Madevar with four small ones. It is kept at the gate of our home. Probably three sets refer to the story of 3 steps taken by Vamana. Onam is such a festival that all living beings partake of the feast. Crows and birds to eat the offerings we leave in front of the Madevar. Even ants have their fair share nibbling at the rice dough designs. Every night after Puja, the Madevars are brought inside home. Next day all the old flowers are removed and new ones hoisted on them, before they are taken outside amid the design Mummy makes. Now, we find it difficult to get clay and hence the changing times have forced us to get the ready-made Madevars available in the market. We even got one made in wood by a carpenter. The work is easy but am sure all of us miss the joint effort of making Madevars at home. Sometimes it rains during Onam and then we rush to take in the Madevars. If it’s heavy, it washes away all the designs too.

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Madevars and the decorations

Onam is the time for sumptuous feasts. We have a wide variety of dishes and side dishes that we prepare to celebrate Onam. Plain rice is the main course. There are wet and dry dishes – Sambhar, Avial, Koottu Curry, Kalan, Olan, Inji Puli, Pachadi and Thorans (yummy and fingerlicious… I can only drool at Mom’s very tasty fare) form part of our lunch. It is interesting to note that all the dishes use plenty of scraped coconuts, a staple for us Keralites. It is also noteworthy that at home we never use onions, garlic and garam masalas for our Onam feast. Payasam is the sweet dish that is prepared. We make different kinds of payasams – the all time favourites being Palada Prathaman, Chakka (Jack fruit) Prathaman, Semiya Payasam, Paal (Milk) Payasam to mention a few. (Drool…) Another feature is that non-vegetarian dishes are a strict no-no. Even otherwise, non-vegetarian dishes are once in a blue moon affair at home. 🙂 Ona Sadya is always served in banana leaves. Salted banana chips called Kaaya Varuthath and sweetened (with jaggery) banana chips, papad, pickle and banana also are served in the banana leaf. Well, there is a fixed spot in the banana leaf too, where each dish should be served! Rich or poor, the sadya is such a key aspect of Onam that there is a saying “Kaanam vittum Onam unnanam” which roughly translates to “if you have to sell your property, so be it, but we must have an Ona sadya.”

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A traditional Ona Sadya – and that’s me, drooling! 😀

Onam times are get-together times too. Now all of us are in different parts of the country and me in Dubai, it is not always possible for all of us to congregate at home for Onam. Nevertheless, all most of my siblings reach home and spend the time with our Dad and Mom. We get new dresses called Onakodi. Women, wear either Kerala Saris or the two piece dress called Mundu and Veshti and men wear shirts and dhotis. It is relevant to note that the colour of these dresses is ivory or off white, probably in stark contrast to the verdant landscape around. We exchange greetings with extended families. Many people visit temples. However, we don’t go to temples on Onam days. All temples are throng with devotees and we hate going to crowded places.

In other parts of Kerala, there are lots of other games and celebrations like Vallam Kali or boat races, Kaikotti Kali, Ona Pattu, vadam vali (tug of war) etc. Boat races reign supreme with lots of foreigners and tourists teeming the backwaters of Kerala to witness the battle of oars and their rhythmic Vallam Kali Pattu or boat race songs. In central Kerala, especially Thrissur it is the Puli Kali that is the cynosure of all eyes. In North Kerala, Onapottan, the symbolic representation of Mahabali, in colourful mask and headgear visits homes, blessing households with prosperity and abundance. Palakkad has its share too in the form of Kummatti Kali and Onathallu. In our nearby village of Pallassena, there is this competition among Nair men. It probably owes its roots to the prowess of Nairs who were warriors in armies of Kolathiris. Onathallu enacts war-like scenes, with men engaging in physical combat. There are strict do and don’ts – so it involves a certain structured form of confrontation and is done under the watchful eyes of elders.

On the 3rd Onam Day, after the Puja, all the Madevars are brought back home. Nowadays, we wash, clean and dry them and keep it safe for the next year. The post-Onam Ayilyam-Makam, described as the Onam of tenants and labourers, is celebrated in Palakkad. this is 16 -17 days after the fourth Onam. This Madevar used to be a fat one called the Maksthadiyan. Along with this we used to make 16 small ones. We also used to make clay shapes of snakes, grinding stone and grandfather and grandmother too. In the rangoli that Mummy makes this time, she would write all our names and draw pictures of a conch, drum, wheel (Vishnu’s chakra), mace (Gada), lotus etc.

Onam is a harvest festival. I remember, when we had paddy fields, harvest times used to be just after or even coincide with Onam. The previous month (Karkidakom – mostly July), sees Kerala at its rainiest. I remember in my childhood, it used to rain and rain. Azure skies were never seen in this month – instead was dark and sombre, wet and damp. People were forced to stay indoors. Naturally money was so scarce for all, that they called the month “Kalla Karkidakom” i.e. cursed month of Karkidakom. There was hunger,  illness and starvation. Once the rains stopped, people eagerly waited Nature to shower bounties, and to celebrate . With harvests, money came in and so did Onam.

Now, we have moved away from being a predominantly agrarian economy. Instead, we have started selling Karkidakom as a month to do Ayurvedic treatments (and, it sells big time!), have converted it into a spiritually important month, with people reading Ramayana and visiting temples and shrines. We have even packaged our Monsoons as tourism packages. However, with global warming, even the pattern of the monsoon rains have changed. This year for example, we got much less rain than what we normally would – at least in Palakkad

Onam as a festival  is completely multi-sensory in experience. It’s a veritable feast for the senses, the panchendriyas. No doubt, we the people of Kerala, are quite proud of this secular festival, when all over the nation there is a veiled threat to its fabric. If you want to visit Kerala, let this be the time to do so. May the vibrant colours of the Pookalam, the rhythm of Puli Kali and the spirit of Vallam Kali bring you all a Happy and Prosperous Onam!

Onam – The Legend

The word festival conjures in one’s mind myriad images – fun, festivity, good food and most often a religious connotation / connection. India being the land of festivals, we practically have a festival in a day, every day of the year. Don’t we Indians love to celebrate!

If ever there is a festival that transcends even religious barriers, it is Kerala’s own festival of Onam. Other than being a harvest festival at a time when Nature is at it best in beauty and bounty, there is also a well known legend connected to it. Like any other story there is long long ago to begin this one too. 🙂 The legend of Mahabali is narrated in the VIIIth canto of the ancient text of Mahabhagavatham.

Long, long ago Kerala was ruled by the Asura King, Mahabali. True to the lineage he was coming from, (Mahabali’s great grandfather was the illustrious and devout Vishnu devotee, Prahalada of the Narasimhavatara fame) Bali was an ideal ruler – benevolent, compassionate and most importantly true to his word. He was generous and charitable. Though an Asura (Demon), Mahabali was an ardent devotee of Lord Mahavishnu, the Preserver of the Hindu Trninty of Brahma (Creator), Vishnu and Maheswara or Siva (Destroyer). Naturally his fame and munificence spread everywhere. A folk song of the times goes like this:

“മാവേലി നാട് വാണീടും കാലം
മാനുഷരെല്ലാരും ഒന്നു പോലെ
ആമോദത്തോടെ വസിക്കും കാലം
ആപത്തങ്ങാർക്കുമൊട്ടില്ല താനും
ആധികള്‍ വ്യാധികള്‍ ഒന്നുമില്ല
ബാല മരണങ്ങള്‍ കേള്‍ക്കാനില്ല
കള്ളവുമില്ല ചതിയുമില്ല
എള്ളോളമില്ല പൊളിവചനം
കള്ളപ്പറയും ചെറു നാഴിയും
കള്ളത്തരങ്ങള്‍ മറ്റൊന്നുമില്ല “

When translated it means:

When Maveli, our King, ruled the land,
All the people were equal.
And people were joyful and merry;
They were all free from harm.
There was neither anxiety nor sickness,
Death of children was unheard of,
There were no lies,
There was neither theft nor deceit,
And no one was false in speech either.
Measures and weights were right;
No one cheated or wronged his neighbour.
When Maveli, our King, ruled the land,
All the people formed one casteless band.

His valour, administrative prowess and strength of character got him the title of Chakravarthy or Emperor. This confidence in himself is said to have made him ambitious. He wanted to rule the Earth, Swargaloka or Heaven and Pathaal or the underworld. The Devas (Gods) who inhabited the Heaven came to hear of this and shuddered with fear. Besides Bali’s name and fame made them extremely jealous and insecure. They ran to Lord Mahavishnu and beseeched Him to save them by doing away with Mahabali.

Mahavishnu is said to have taken the form of a poor brahmin named Vamana (dwarf) and appeared before Bali. Mahabali asked him what he wanted. “Three steps of land that can be covered by my foot”, he said. Mahabali told him he could take as much he wanted. As soon as his wish was granted, the Vamana began to grow in size. With one step he measured the Heaven and with the second, the Earth. There was no place to keep the third step. Mahabali knowing that this was no ordinary person before him, knelt in front of the Vamana, bowed his head and asked the third step to be taken on his head. As he was pushed down to the underworld or Paathala, Mahabali is said to have asked the Vamana for a boon. Since he dearly loved his land and people, he said he would love to visit them once every year. The King’s nobility moved Mahavishnu and he granted the boon, wherein he could visit his land once a year and that he would always remain one of the most loved of kings. In the Malayalam month of Chingam (in August / September as the Malayalam calendar is a lunar calendar) it is believed that Mahabali visits Kerala – and that is Onam time. All houses are decked to receive the King. Among other things homes are decked with floral carpets called Pookkalam. Courtyards are adorned with clay pyramids decorated with wet rice flour. And Mahabali is said to visit homes on the second Onam day – Thiruvonam.

Mathevar is placed on a wooden platform decorated with flowers and rice flour designs: My Mother's handiwork!

Mathevar is placed on a wooden platform decorated with flowers and rice flour designs: My Mother’s handiwork!

The Nostalgia of yet another Vishu

Today was Vishu, a very auspicious day for a Keralite. A festival that is the harbinger of prosperity, plenty and joy. A lot of very special images fleet across my mind’s canvas…
Even Nature is ready for the festivities. The Labernum is laden with flowers. Mangoes and Jackfruits green and ripe are aplenty. The Sun is bright and is almost above the line of the equator.
The eve of Vishu montages:
Mummy & all of us arranging the Kani, the special arrangement of everything auspicious and yellow, so that we can view it first thing in the morning…
The array of yellow coloured fruits and vegetables like mangoes, jackfruit, golden cucumber or the Kani Vellari, lemon, home grown bananas…
The mirror adorned with gold chains and stringed jasmine flowers/ tulasi petals, the idol/photo of Krishna, the Kasavu Veshti, the Bhagavad Gita and everything else from raw rice to halved coconuts…
The dazzling Labernum blooms aka Kanikonna… A host of other flowers to decorate the Lord from the ordinary hibiscus to the sacred Tulasi leaves and to the beautiful and enchanting Lotus flowers the Daddy will get from our Lotus Pond…
The lighted lamps, the wafting fragrance of agarbathis and camphor…

Arranged so that this sight is what one sees first in the morning

Arranged so that this sight is what one sees first in the morning

The morning of Vishu memories:
Mummy waking us up one by one, covering our eyes with her hand, getting us to wash our faces without opening our eyes and then making us sit in front of the necklace adorned mirror…
Lo! You open your eyes and see your reflection in the mirror decked of course in gold and flowers…
As children the best thing to remember was the Vishu Kaineettam… (No pocket money those days. All you will get during the entire year would be a few rupees as Kaineetam, that the elders would give you!)
Then the very interesting part for children – the bursting of crackers & fireworks… (Gradually this became a much toned down affair, thanks to the awareness that child labour was rampant in the firework factories in Sivakasi and of the chemical pollution it releases into the air !)
When we had our cattle, Mummy used to take the Kani into the cattle shed for the cows to see…
All reminders of times when we lived close to nature… and treated every living being with respect and love…
Then the rush of local people – kids, young and old, to collect their share of Kaineettam from Daddy…
Sumptuous feasts…
Times when all would come home for Vishu… the joy, the merriment, the bonding and the camaraderie…

Today am at Sharjah. Far away from my loved ones, physically at least. Virtually I was even able to see some of the vishu kanis… The eve of Vishu gave me actually the blues… (which I tried rather unsuccessfully to beat by watching the Malayalam movie Amen in the nearest theatre!)  How I missed being at home during this festive time! Made a decent feast for myself with sambhar, rice and koottu curry – yet my mind, like a disobedient child, ran back to the courtyards of Sreyas (our home is named that); in the midst of Dad and Mom…

How true the age old adage is: East or West, Home is truly the best! Only one has to leave the shores of our land to realize this!!

Flowers of the Indian Labernum or the Kani Konna

Flowers of the Indian Labernum or the Kani Konna

Happy Vishu to all… May this Vishu bring you joy, peace, health and prosperity!!!

Dehumanizing Violence

The beginning of the annual northern journey of the Sun well after the winter Solstice is celebrated as Makara Sankranthi all over India. The name originates from the Sanskrit word Sankramana which means “to begin to move”. Did you know that while most Indian festivals are based on the lunar calendar, this is the only one which is based on the solar one; and the date in the English calendar is mostly static at 14th January? When the glorious Sun begins its ascendancy and entry into the Northern Hemisphere and Capricorn (Makar) in particular, it seems to remind human beings of one of finest Shanthi Mantras from The Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upanishad (1.3.28):

असतोमा सद्गमय। तमसोमा ज्योतिर् गमया।
मृत्योर्मामृतं गमय॥ ॐ शांति शांति शांति

Asato mā sad gamaya
Tamaso mā jyotir gamaya
Mṛtyormā amṛtam gamaya
Aum śānti śānti śāntiḥ

The mantra translates like this:

“From ignorance, lead me to truth;
From darkness, lead me to light;
From death, lead me to immortality
May there be peace everywhere.”

The second line Tamaso Ma Jyotirgamaya’ exhorts us to go higher & higher, to more & more Light and never to Darkness. But methinks we are plunging into abysses of darkness with each passing day. Makara Sankranthi festivities include Kite Flying in some parts of India and bull taming down south in Tamil Nadu. While the glass coated manjas of kites have wrought suffering to humans and animals alike (refer to my my post http://bit.ly/102jeST ), the bull taming competition called Jallikattu is even more virulent and violent. In some other rural areas this is also the time for cock fights, buffalo fights and the like.

The name Jallikattu comes from the term “Salli” kassu (coins) and “Kattu” (meaning a package) tied to the horns of the bulls as the prize money. At the centre of this traditional sport which is considered very auspicious is a man (or men) who locks horns with the bull.  Taming the bull is considered to be a virile, macho act and the victor walks away with a prize money too. The event is held amidst loud cheering from thousands of spectators including foreign tourists. Many a time the bewildered animal runs amok.

At the core of this so-called sport is unimaginable cruelty to animals. Participants pull the bulls’ tails, squeeze lemon in their eyes and even slash their skins and apply chilly powder to turn them wild just to enhance the spectacle of the fight, and to win. There is also danger to the public viewing this spectacle. Is this any kind of valour? Over and above these is the untold miseries the animal (s) suffers when it falls, fractures it limbs, gores down people in its wild agony and after it all loses the battle either in painful impairment or cruel death.

Though the centre has banned Jallikattu, it is conducted as per the guidelines of Supreme Court and Tamil Nadu Jallikattu Regulation Act. The bullfights though initially held only during Pongal time, later started running from January to May. Organizers of the event are required to deposit 2 lakhs as compensation for those injured during the event – a common fallout. This conversion of a ritual into business was slammed by the Supreme Court as mercenary. Yet the spectacle goes on.

What is it that makes human beings so very cruel and sadistic that they derive pleasure in inflicting pain and heaping suffering on poor dumb animals? For the sake of justice and fair play at least, shouldn’t fights be between equals? How can one be considered manlike while indulging in this kind of barbarism? Shouldn’t it be considered most diabolic and fiendish? It is time that we banned such sports that debases and dehumanizes us. If you want to voice your opinion against this heartless and inhuman sport and get it banned, please click this link: http://bit.ly/102pXMH . I just did.

Go, fly a Kite; but don’t take a Life!

Kites. Beautiful. Colourful. In an array of shapes.  May be because I have seen them only on very few occasions, I have been as fascinated as a little child whenever I see kites soaring in the sky, against wind… lifting it up higher and higher, till they are just a speck in the vast azure expanse and then disappear from the naked eye. Kite flying is also a ritual in many parts of India at Makara Sankranthi – the day when the glorious Sun begins its ascendancy and enters into the Northern Hemisphere; the time from when days start becoming longer & warmer.

As a teacher while teaching Ruskin Bond’s The Kite Maker to my Grade XI students, I got an insight into the life of Mahmood, the kite maker. In the story, Mahmood, the kite maker reminiscences the past and longs for the bygone era when he was treated with great respect and importance. As the pace of life quickened, people had no time or interest for kite flying. Later I was equally charmed by the wonderful tale of Khaled Hosseni in The Kite Runner, his debut novel. To Amir, the protagonist, kite running was a favourite pastime. The kite here is also symbolic of two overriding yet contrasting emotions in Amir – happiness as well as guilt.

To me kites are a metaphor to speak about anything that rises against odds. While I love to see these colourful things in the sky I was rudely shocked when I read about kite flying competitions. In such a competition one kite will cut the strings of other kites and emerge the winner. Wonder how one string can cut another? It is because the string is coated with glass powder! It is reported that earlier we used Indian Manja, made of normal cotton thread, coated with a mixture of rice powder and gum. Then competitions were not as cut-throat as it is now. Everything was done for pure fun.

Now it seems the markets are flooded with Chinese Manja which is made of nylon and coated with rice powder, gum and finely crushed glass powder. This gives it both a firmness and sharpness which makes it difficult to be cut in kite flying competitions. There is a deadlier Chinese version of this made out of wire called Tangus Manja, it seems. The Indian one is costly as it requires hard labour and is time consuming to make. The Chinese one on the other hand is cheap – just half the price of the Indian one.

Even more horrifying is the loss of life associated with kite flying. Children fall down roof tops and terraces while flying them. People travelling in two wheelers have had their throats slit by the manja. Many birds have also been affected – died or injured, courtesy these heartless kite fliers who use deadly versions of the Manja. And mind you, it is winter time. There a lot of avian visitors to the Indian sub continent ranging from Painted Storks to Amur Falcons.

Am sad, beyond words! How can we take pride in being humans with the power to think when we are so callous about other lives? We must ban these pastimes where death, pain and injury lurks!! Or else get back to using normal thread which will not cause any harm. Is that asking too much?

Are you a kite flier? If yes, please do spare a thought for both humans and animals! By all means go, fly your kite… but don’t you take a life!!!

December Memories

December to me is the most happiest month of the year. After growing up in a lushly green yet sleepy village where time almost stood still in the rice-rich Palakkad, the month simply evokes in my mind myriad images.
The sight of very many pilgrims clad in black, blue and of late orange, all readying to go to Sabarimala for pilgrimage… The mornings & evenings were greeted by Ayyappa devotional songs….
I love the December weather. Mornings are chill and the evenings are cool. Throughout the day there is the strong eastern winds blowing along the Palakkad Pass. This has come to be known as the “Palakkadan Kaattu” (meaning Palakkad’s wind). You feel the wind against you the moment you enter the district from either via Walayar or Kuthiran hills – sometimes caressing, at times a little too strong…
The strong breeze bringing in dry leaves especially of teak and its dry flowers and fruit laden branches, which will fill the courtyards…
The emerald green rice fields swaying to the rhythm of winds making gentle waves. What a spectacle is this from the nearby hillock called Karivottu Mala!
The full Malampuzha Canal, the waters of which are released to help the farmers water the paddy fields for the second crop…
Trees laden with drumsticks and gooseberries…
Beds of Koorka Kizhangu or Chinese potatoes. The taste of Mummy’s fry made of these tubers still lingers in my palate…
The hyacinth bean or Avarakka with its purple flowers and green bean pods climbing on to the trellis. Sambhar made of this kind of broad beans and the bean fry are just delicious…
Arrow root, the powder of which is used to make a sweet porridge for one of the most important of festivals – Thiruvathira, which falls on the full moon day…
Walking along with my siblings and my grandmother on Thiruvathira day to the Thripallavurappan temple with a tray full of goodies for the Lord – tender coconut, bananas, betel leaves, agarbathis, camphor and the like…
The dry reeds in the hillocks around that reflect & glow golden yellow at dawn and dusk… There is pure magic in the December air!

December is also the month when the world celebrates Christmas. Houses and shops are all decked. One very clear memory is that of lot of big balloons with ‘Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’ imprinted on them along with the pictures of Santa! Christmas star is even to this day an integral part of our household, though we are Hindus. The last five years have seen us setting up the Christmas tree replete with decorations and coloured lights. It gladdens me to see how secular we have grown to be. We used to send out so many cards  for Christmas & New Year by snail mail. When my daughter Aathira moved into the middle school, she developed a keen interest in making her own greeting cards using water colours on chart paper cards. Now all that has become part of the bygone era. Today it is just e-cards, tweets, status updates – all sent through the click of a button or the swipe of a touch screen.

And one of the best Decembers in my memory is of 2000 – when we, my daughter and I, spent almost all of December in Munnar as my daughter was preparing for her class 10 examinations. Though we had a month of winter holidays, we decided to stay on at Munnar and go home briefly around Christmas time to celebrate my daughter’s 15th birthday with her grandparents. The crystal clear night skies  decked with thousands of twinkling stars… The joy of finding an occasional shooting star… We used to switch off all the lights and sit on the step gazing wondrously at the enchanting spectacle of the sky… The very cold mornings which did not deter us from taking our morning walks…  The morning teas which had to be literally gulped down to savour it hot… Simple joys and pleasures galore!

One of the finest books on Christmas that I have read is the Christmas Carol. I enjoyed it even more when I taught it for my class 10 students. It was a great opportunity to acquaint impressionable minds with timeless values. The story of Scrooge, a miser who becomes a different man when he is presented with visions of past, present and future by the ghost of Marley makes it such an endearing read. Christmas celebrations at school … and listening to some of the most beautifully rendered Christmas songs by Jim Reeves… Plum cakes… Cakes with icing…

Finally the best thing about December is that I became the mother of a lovely girl in this charming month. She was born on 27th December; on the full moon day on which we, Hindus, celebrate the festival of Thiruvathira. Rightly she is named Aathira.

So, those are my very own December memories. What are yours?
Am signing off with wishes to each one of you for a Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year!

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