The halls seem desolate. The rooms, rather impersonal. Like the last breath has left a body. Only, here the rooms await someone else. Melancholy inhabits the spaces, in the meantime.
Another onam has passed. Someone died today, as the sun came up.
I’ll pack my bags again and move tomorrow. In the meantime, I linger and ponder on whether these trees will miss me. How I have stayed and dreamt with these trees day and night. They look beautiful. I should pack.
Are all notions of permanence mere transitory thoughts?
It might be preposterous to imagine, that my presence here mattered. The day will look just the same tomorrow.
What are we really working upon – each day – every single day of our very short lives? What are we building? What should we be building? A family, a name? Are they incongruous to each other? Where lies that fine balance?
The echoes of the past reverberate through stories and monuments. Walk into an old tomb and listen to the stories of yesteryears- stories of workers that laid hands on every sculpture there is. They must have measured out every angle of every chin of every sculpture. They have left behind, a witness to their existence.
What is my monument? What is my grand story? All these seemingly regular days; these winds I whisper to; these moments I so love – what will they translate to?
“That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”
– Walt Whitman (O Me! O Life!)
What will my verse contain? Maybe, I’ll know… soon enough.
Onam began at school – with a bucket-full of mud and dirty hands. A bucket-full of mud dug out of the school grounds, set into a big circular cake in the verandah, soon transformed into rows and rows of pookalams.
Onam began at home with Chandrika chechi making a small round circle with cowdung in the frontyard which I and my brother filled every day for the next few days with flowers collected from the backyard and the roadside, using a non-existent imagination.
After a few days of joyously making pookalam and a few more days of grudgingly getting out of bed and making a pookalam and a few more days of telling mom and grandmother to go make the pookalam for themselves, Chandrika chechi would again come by and make for us the maathooru. No one could exactly remember how or why the 3 pyramids of clay came to symbolize Mahabali. Mom would make kolam around the maathooru and try vainly to pass on the skill to me. My indifference notwithstanding, she would write my name and my brother’s with the rice batter.
As a child, I could never get my head around to why Mahabali was given a raw deal or why he sounded like Innocent all the time. You felt sorry for him, our king of good times and angry at Vishnu for being sneaky and conniving. You learn about politics and back-channel power-struggles and about people who are left leaderless.
But slowly you realize, that is what Onam is all about – recognizing the good in an asura king, accepting the fallibility of your deities, a call to color your life, to celebrate the flowers, the rains, the nature and the togetherness. That is why Onam belongs to no religion.
Onam then ended aptly with my mom and my brother’s birthdays – More payasams and more of those sadyas.
Pookalam – a floral decoration
Chechi – Literally elder sister, but used to refer to any lady elder than yourself
Kolam – A drawing made using rice batter
Maathooru – Pyramids of clay made during onam and kept outside the home. They symbolize Mahabali
Mahabali – The asura (technically demon) king who ruled over Kerala.
Payasam – Sweet dish
Sadya – A feast
For more on Onam: Click here