Slipping away

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.

Onam Ashamsakal.



22 thoughts on “Slipping away

  1. Happy Onam!
    We had a great Sadya meal last week when we walked into a malabar restaurant, the place was packed and we were told it was a special reservation only event, but the manager to our delight took us to table with no shows to the place. YUMM

  2. Hi Sarah,
    Onashamsakal to you too!! This Saturday, we’re having a Ona Sadya at a friend’s house. Can’t wait for it!!! I totally agree with you about the ethakka upperi. Thinly sliced is the way to go. I hate store bought chips. But what I miss most is the oonjaal and the athapoov.
    Happy Onam once again!!

  3. I never lived in Kerala, so all of my Onam memories is that of my mothers’ about all the flower kolams. For me, Onam meant, lots of payasam and new clothes- and ofcourse going to school!

    I still celebrate Onam. Same stuff..

    Sarah- once a malayali for ever a malayali.. even if you do not celebrate Onam with new dresses or flower kolams, Mahabali is going to visit you!! 🙂
    Even Malayalis in Kerala have cut down on rice. They make it up with ‘palaharams’ like kozhukotta, idiyappam, ari pathiri as substitutes. But if you ask them, they will say ‘ippo choru koruchu!!’
    Our household also have cut out on rice.
    My daughter here is trying to convince her father that she should be able to take day off for Onam on Monday.. on religious ground!! 🙂

    • MS: Even if I don’t celebrate onam like I used to, I still have my memories.. I feel sad that my mallu children won’t even have those memories. Happy Onam

  4. Onashamsakal to you too Sarah!

    Talk about craving for rice, Enthoke kayichalum, Enniku choru kayichale samadanam ullu. Some time back, I decided to stopped eating rice and I was so craving for rice that I used to end up soaking a tblspn of raw rice in water and would eat that 🙂 funny eh!

    • Reena: Wishing you happy onam, You know what, every time I soak rice to make dosai batter, I eat a handful of soaked rice..I have done this since I was a child. I was also fond of eating unwashed Kuthari.. ( whenever Ammachi was not in the kitchen, I would go to the pathayam, grab a handful of kuthari and eat it.)

  5. I am a north Indian and grew up, not knowing much about the south India till I finished school. However when I started college, we moved to south, and I found all these new food, traditions, life, languages etc. Now I can talk fluent Telugu, Tamil, Marathi, Gujrati, and understand several others. I regularly cook southern dishes and my kids and hubby love dosa, idly, no-spice sambar etc. However, we celebrate only Diwali, Holi kind of festivals at home. That is when I make some core north indian dishes and do little pooja. For my kids and me, it is all about fun, and knowing bit of tradition that goes with it. I bought some stuff for making a small temple in my house (although I am not religious at all), kids ended up playing with all the stuff. Kids growing here will never know, the India we knew growing up. As a family we now enjoy thanksgiving feast, Chrismas potlucks, and Halloween to the core. We are making new traditions that way. For them happy memories are all that matter, when as adults, they look back and those moments put a smile on their faces. For me, I live in a jumbled world of memories from India, my childhood, and the ones that I am making with my family here. New, but still happy and my very own.

  6. Sorry forgot this:
    A very Happy Onam to you and your family. I just googled Onam Sadya. I will try making some of the items from Sadya. The images of Sadya look mouth watering. Thanks for introducing me to a new world of Kerla food.

  7. Wishing you a very happy Onam!
    I am planning a sadya on Sunday. Monday is a working day, and I can’t afford to take leave-saving up all the leaves for when I will need them later this year. Mahabali is going to be really sad this year to see me eating leftovers, and pretending to work when in reality I will be chatting with my only malayalee colleague about onam.

      • Haven’t worn a saree in about 6 years. Can’t get into any of my old blouses- need to lose about 15 kgs, and haven’t got new ones stitched.
        Made pookalam, and my son didn’t even come and look. Made sadya, and he was complaining about not being able to eat with spoon because the plantain leaf was tearing. And didn’t touch anything other than rice, sambar and papad. Sang the “maveli naadu vaanidum” song to check if I remember all the lines, and he asked me to stop. Although that was probably because I just can’t sing. I think my last onam celebration just got over…. Not worth the effort!

        • URT: Pookkalam making would be much more fun, if your son got to make it with you as well. ( When the kids were little, I gave them floor chalk to draw pookkalam, Yaya and baby did flowers, my son’s was a fire engine !!!) Can you please send me the full lyrics for Maveli nadu vaneedum kalam”, I have forgotten it.

  8. Happy Onam !!!
    You made me drool when you mentioned Ona Sadya (made me go back in the memory lane to my childhood when I used to get invited to a friend’s place during Onam). Malayalee cuisine rocks! 🙂

  9. Actually the only actual memories I have of Onam(growing outside Kerala my whole life) are of my mom wearing the set sari and making avial, sambar and pachadi – all of which I hated then. Ofcourse I developed a taste for Onam Sadya latter on as we grew when we decked up in Onam finery to church as young girls. Stories of Onam in the villages my parents grew up was our make-believe setup about this day. I don’t even have that to share with my kids. Its just the food – which again my kids hate mostly 😀 and their ammachy’s stories, bcoz I have none.
    Happy Onam to you too 🙂

    • Sunita: all through my childhood and adulthood, I hated avial. I think it had to be because Amma’s avial tasted horrible. But right now, if you ask me what is my favourite Mallu dish, it would be Avial. I feel so happy every time I cook avial and my kids love it as well.

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