Thursday, September 11, 2008

Of Pagan Musings & A Feast Gone Wrong....

" Rekz, isn't Onam on the 12th? What are you planning to do?"
" Nothing"

" Nothing at all???"
" Na"

Hailing from a true blue Brahmin family, tradition and strict adherence to age-old customs had been an integral part of young Dsk's daily life. Festivals, of course, used to be noisy, colourful and replete with elaborate rituals. So, it is no small wonder that he now has difficulty reconciling to my brand of Paganism, a throwback to a childhood characterised by very little religious customs.

" Why are you not doing anything for Onam? Is it because it is a working day..."
"But there isn't much to do....."
" Not much to do???....But how can that be?......Isn't it Kerala's biggest festivals?...How do people normally celebrate it?"

" Well, its more of a family and friends show rather than an individual act...A little like Thanksgiving, I guess...Normally, every house in Kerala will create a Pookalam [floral carpet] right in front of the house - sometimes for the prescribed 10 days, but often for the last 3 days. The flowers for these pookalams would be collected by children the evening before. Other than that, we wear new clothes, eat scrumptious lunches and loll about the house doing nothing much other than gossip or nap"

For a few moments, I was lost in time...I was reminded of the excitement and laughter of an incredibly fun Onam I had celebrated as a little kid. It was a rare occasion when all my cousins had been in town. Every evening, we would set out as a noisy band to scavenge the neighbourhood for flowers and colourful leaves....Some we begged for, some we stole shamelessly and the rest, we picked from vacant lots and the roadside..... And when the sun sank into the horizon, bathing us in its golden glow, we would scurry back home with our precious booty and set about designing the next morning's pookalams... An exercise which almost never reached fruition because we, especially the younger ones, would be exhausted and all too willing to retire to our beds without much urging from our parents.
The voices from my past rang in my ears...My grandmother warning us against dirtying or ripping our new mother and aunts calling to one another as they bustled about their chores...our giggles as we cousins amused ourselves with games of make-believe....the chattering of trusted servants and vendors as they received their 'kodi' [new clothes]...the laughter of the menfolk who would play cards or talk politics till lunch was served.... That was an Onam to remember!!!

" That's it???....I guess it will be no fun for you if you are to spend the day in the kitchen cooking...Why don't you do the flower carpet thingy and then we can go out for a traditional Sadhya [feast] at night.."

It must have been my walk down memory lane. Or perhaps, it was the call of my roots. But, all at once I was gripped by this urge to invoke the festive spirit in my home.
Besides, a pookalam, payasam at home and a delicious sadhya outside sounded like heaven to me!!!
This, I told myself, was the perfect way for an alien resident like me to enjoy Onam. Determined to make the best of the available resources, I promptly went on a flower buying spree which lasted all of 2 hours, and had me return home staggering under the weight of almost 3 kilos of fresh flowers. On Tiruonam morning, I was up with the lark and racing through my morning chores so that I could get my itching hands on the mounds of flower. But even with an early start, the pookalam, my biggest and best so far, took all of 4 hours for completion. Not that I minded....I was delighted with my efforts and was even more so when the new payasam I created proved to be finger licking good.

Things just could not have been better. My cup of joy was filled to the brim and promised to overflow once I sat down to that delicious feast in the evening. The thought of the Sadhya had me salivating and I spent the entire afternoon dreaming of extra large banana leaves replete with fiery pickles, my favourite tamarind-ginger-jaggery relish, fried crunchy jaggery coated chips and the medley of colourful curries that formed the traditional sadhya. The giant banana leaves continued to occupy my thoughts even at the temple, which I suspect must have displeased the Gods.
For when we reached the dinner venue, we found it jam packed with people. It appeared that every malayalee family in Chennai had the same brain wave as we did and even worse, had generously offered to host friends and foe to a Kerala Sadhya. Even so, I was the epitome of patience...The angel of grace and charm in the face of great adversity. After all, as a kindred soul commented to the hostess, good food is always worth waiting for.
An hour and many bonjis [lemon juice] later, just as I was mentally composing a request to the Maitr'd for a little stool in the corner of the kitchen, we were given a table. The first droplets of joy ran over the rim, as I settled into my seat and listened to the waiter reel off the specials
" Ma'am, we have the Sadhya [traditional feast] and the Rajakiyam [royal meal]"
My interest piqued, I asked him for a description of the royal meal
" Rajakiyam is unlimited servings...And you get to taste all the Kerala delicacies..Like Appam, Puttu, etc along with their curries"
I couldn't believe my ears. A Sadhya plus all the traditional goodies. I had lucked out!!!.
My cup of joy was now gushing over...
The meal arrived on a heavy silver platter with little silver cups of curries and generous helpings of Kerala's delicacies. Resisting the temptation to indulge, I ate sparingly determined to reserve adequate space for my Sadhya. After all, that was the reason we were in the restaurant!. So I worked my way through minute quantities of Parotas [special bread], Appam [ an pancake of sorts], Puttu [ steamed rice cake] and Idiyappam [ again, a steamed something which I cannot think of a name for], and was ready for my Sadhya when I was offered a choice of Biriyani or Ghee Rice.
I graciously declined both and asked them to bring forth the Sadhya.....Only to be met by a baffled silence!!!
After a few moments of blank stares all around, cold fear gripped my heart. I choked out a second request for my Sadhya and was mortified to see everyone around me struggling to suppress their smiles, before gently informing me that there was no Sadhya heading my way that evening.....

My chagrin soon transformed into ire, especially when I caught sight of Dsk's smirk. Hell indeed hath no fury like a woman denied....How could any meal qualify as a Rajakiyam without the Sadhya? I demanded to know. But everyone around me was far too amused to furnish me with a satisfactory answer. They did, however, offer me a reservation for next day's lunch!!!
Dsk, of course, continued to be most annoying and laughed all the way home. As I sat in sullen silence, I wondered what the good king Mahabali would have made of a royal meal sans the sadhya??? Something tells me that he would not be very amused!!!


Roopa said...

That was downright unfair!! Hmmm...maybe the traditional would have had all the necessary ingredients...

Moggie Mom said...

:( :(
Finally some sympathy!!!
My husband said the episode only proved my intelligent deficiency beyond doubt and a good friend hope I had learned my lesson about not allowing my stomach do the talking!!! Such meanies they were!!!
But, I went back the next day for the traditional sadhya and ate a cauldron of puliinji to console myself...: ): ): )