Wednesday, 25 August 2010


4 holidays in a row saw us carouse down from Delhi to Mumbai. The reasons were various. To get away from it all. And to renew ties with friends and family.

On the heels of Navroz, the period from 20-24 August 2010 was marked by two festivals offsite: Onam and Raksha Bandhan. The period was a veritable feast with Western and Southern cuisine at its best.

Pork sausages made by aunty – Marol nana - opened the innings. Gravied with potatoes it seeped into the pulao and just about didn’t manage to elbow out the flavor of the cinnamon. For tea aunty made poha- a Maharashtrian delicacy, garnished with coriander with a generous helping of lime.

The piece de resistance of course was a 25 item Onasadya (lunch) – so said the ad at Benzys, Marol-Maroshi road – on Onam 23 August. Gallantly dished out by a dashing Malayali waiter we kept watching while the empty space on our banana leaf kept shrinking. For connoisseurs this was the menu:

2. Banana chips
3. Sarkaravaratti
4. Puli ingi curry
5. Mulagu Kondattam
6. Salt
7. Lime pickle
8. Ulli Theyal
9. Beetroot Thoran
10. Avial
11. Kootu curry
12 Mango pickle
13. Cabbage Thoran
14. Parippu curry
15. Ghee
16. Sambar
17. Rasam
18. Puliserry
19. Kaalan
20. Butter milk
21. Olan
22. Erissery
23. Pazham
24. Gothambu Payasam
25. Adapradhaman

The evening saw us meander to Kurla to drop in on friends from Kerala. ‘The legend goes,’ said uncle, ‘that there used to be a King called Mahabali under whose reign all were happy. The gods, jealous of his popularity were determined to change things. In the garb of a mendicant one of the gods went to Mahabali and asked for 3 things. Mahabali agreed. The first request was all the wealth in the kingdom. The next was the 3 worlds. Finally there was nowhere for the god to place his leg – for he had increased his size enormously. Mahabali said “Place your foot on my head. But grant me one wish – Every year I must be allowed to return to earth to visit my subjects.” Having agreed, the god stamped the good king Mahabali into the earth and snuffed him out. But Mahabali returns every Onam and that’s why the rejoicing. A sobering reflection that those who are powerful are not always just – the gods included.

Banana chips have been my childhood favourite. I remember picking up heaps from Shoranur station on my trip to Trivandrum. Now I understand Kerala in a wider perspective. I discussed these linkages with uncle: the slaying of the son of the Muthoot group, the Sr Abhaya murder, elephants running amok, and the chopping of the fingers of a teacher in Kerala. All is not well in God’s own country. Maybe we should increase the frequency of King Mahabali’s visit – or try to be Mahabalis in our spheres of influence.

You don't need to be in Kerala to celebrate Onam. The joie de vivre is there across India and world-wide. Beyond the gorging, across time and space, we need to reflect on how we can use the energy of festivals to leave the world a better place.

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