Growing up in India, I ate rice for lunch and dinner every single day. When I went back to Malaysia, like the rest of my family, I opted to cook traditional breakfast items for dinner and only had rice for lunch. There was no time to make dosai or appam in the morning before leaving for work, instead, I cooked them for dinner. But I couldn’t survive not eating rice for at least one meal a day. A plate of rice with a bit of dhal, pappadam and pickle defined who I was. If I had gone out for some fancy pansy lunch devoid of rice and dinner was not rice, just before going to bed, I would eat a small serve of rice, not because I was hungry, that little bit of rice was needed to make me feel alive as a malayalee.
I have not had rice for the past 2 weeks and it has not bothered me at all. Even if I felt the cravings for rice, there isn’t any in the fridge either. 20 years ago, if someone told me that there will be day I wouldn’t have a container of cooked rice in my fridge, I would have laughed my heart out.
If I tell my kids on Monday that today is onam, then they will ask for the angpow ( kai neettam) and that will be it. They don’t think it is a big deal to have a sadya.. They don’t understand the joy of getting onakkodi..the wait for the reduction sale in Seematti and hoping against hope that Amma will buy me a new dress/pavada and when she didn’t, the envy I felt seeing my friends in their new outfits. Onam was about thinly sliced banana chips fried in coconut oil..( not the chunky chips available at the Indian grocers made by ‘grandma’ that looks like banana chips but taste like plastic) Onam was about visiting family , They don’t understand travelling in a very crowded bus from Kottayam to Chengannnur and even though you can hardly take a breath while being packed like sardines in a can, you are not angry, because it wasn’t the journey, but the destination that mattered. ( while here, my children wait for the next bus or the one after until they find a bus that is not full because they don’t like anyone encroaching their personal bubble)
As the years go by, I am becoming less of a Malayalee, but on Onam day. a part of me can be seen walking on the bund road, holding my father’s hand, looking at all the athapoos in front of the houses, giving way to Thomachan who is carrying his prized ethakkula on his shoulder from the market for those last minute upperi and swaying side to side balancing the heavy load ( or was it the kallu he drank the night before?), imagining all the goodies awaiting me at home, wondering if Kutten got the oonjal (swing) ready?
To those who still keep the spirit of Onam alive.. I envy you.