25 years ago, my Ammachi told me, whatever happens or where ever you are, you will always be a malayalee and I argued with her, saying that I am not a malayalee. I loved to rub it in to her that I hold a different passport. She told me, “Mark my word, you will always be a malayalee. You will return here!”
‘Here’ she meant was Chengannur house. Although I haven’t been to Chengannur for so long, I am beginning to understand what my grandmother told me many moons ago. Every onam, I go back. I close my eyes and I see a little girl in a Kasavu pavada, begging Kutten
“Kutten Chetta, please tie the unjal (swing) for me”.
Ammachi wouldn’t give money to buy new rope to make the swing. So kutten and I would hide near the cattle shed, the moment Ammachi turned her back, we would run to the well, grab the rope (that is tied to the bucket to draw the water from the well) and run all the way to the jackfruit tree, often Ammachi would hear the sound of the bucket falling down and would chase us, telling us
“what am I going to do, if you take the rope? How will I draw the water? How will I cook the sadya? Give me the rope!.”
“No way” I would run even faster
She would then turn around saying,”ok, you don’t want the sadya, It is fine with me. I am not struggling to make sadya for anyone.
I used to get all stressed up thinking about not having a sadya on onam day and Kutten will signal to me and say
“Don’t worry, that is all pulu..(lies). There is no way, your Ammachi not going to make any sadya. Your Ammachi will find a way to draw the water from the well.”
After the swing is tied, Kutten would cut the base part of the coconut leaf and shape that in to a seat, so I can sit comfortably on the swing. I always begged Kutten to help me push on the swing and sometimes Kutten would push me so high, I felt I could almost touch the leaves on the tree.
After a while when he gets tired Kutten would say”Athey, Kochumaharani I have bettter things to do.” And he will walk off.
After struggling along for a little while on the swing, I often get bored. I would then sneak in to the kitchen, and grab the banana chips that Ammachi had just fried. Ammachi ofcourse had thousand eyes.
“How dare you steal the chips, put it back in the container” She would scream.
Before Ammachi could reach me, I would try to stuff my mouth with the chips and Ammachi would scream
“just like your father. Can’t wait till the sadya.” She would forcefully open my hands and take the rest of the chips from my hand and put it back in the container.
“Run along Now, If I see you in the kitchen again, I will break your leg”
The above dialogue often was followed by what I was extremely good at. I, her grand daughter would stick my tongue at her and run.
I have often heard her saying to Chakki”Whoever is destined to marry that child is going to be in trouble. I am sure she would stick her tongue at him as well. kali kala vaibhavam!”
The best part of the onam day was the sadya. I was told to leave a small portion of the food in my leaf for the Mahabeli. I didn’t want to, not my yummy chips or the pineapple pachadi or for that matter even the Kalan. So I always left the Thoran (vege) for the Mahabali, because I never liked it. Fortunately Ammachi didn’t know that time that I didn’t like the thoran that is why(I was so generous) Mahabeli got almost all of it.
At the end of sadya, I never had any space left in my tummy for the payasam (dessert). It was such a disappointment, not being able to drink the payasam and watching all the shapattu ramans ( my uncles and aunts) of our house finishing the payasam.
The best part was yet to come. After the lunch, I liked to lay down on the parapet wall, as the gentle harvest breeze was soothing to my over working, stuffed to the brim, tummy. Ammachi too would come and sit on the wall, leaning on the pillar and fanning herself with an old news paper. Without even asking her, I would rest my head on her lap and beg her to tell me the onam story. Then Ammachi would tell me the story of what onam is all about. How Mahabeli lost everything he has, because the gods in heaven was jealous of him. She used to tell me
“You can never be too good, for the god’s in heaven won’t let you”.
And I as I type this message, I wonder if what she told me was true..
Here is wishing all of you a wonderful onam, where ever you are…
koranu kumbilil Kanji