To be or not to be – An Onam story…

Live alone long enough and you could get dangerously close to evolving into an eccentric, building up layers of inculcated behavior. You attach yourself to ideas that appeal to you, never mind if you are the only one hanging out there. You indulge many a whim with not a soul to raise their eyebrows down upon them. And so on. At some point you realize that you are neither here nor there. It is not too bad a place to be, I would say. As long as the ‘why’ you are there is not a confounding bad thing!

Once, when my sister and me were still at our parents’ home you would have found us all, the whole family, on Onam eve, sitting around the dinner table, meticulously picking petals off flowers, laughing and generally having a fun time. Around tea time the living room would be transformed. The furniture gets moved to one side and the room gets cleaned and mopped up. A round of tea and we are all set.

Newspapers would be spread over and around the dining table and the bags of flowers would be brought out. Our living room would smell like a mini flower market with fragrances wafting from the many bags full of marigolds, jasmines, chrysanthemums, gomphrenas, ixoras and lantanas to name the most regular of them all! This task of picking out the petals from the flowers is not a simple one. It would run late, sometimes till even an hour or so after dinner!

The picked out petal heaps would glow in pure shades of yellow, orange, red, purple etc. with not a hint of green, brown or black marring the perfection required for making the flower carpet. These would then be put back in individual bags and the frailer, delicate ones would even go into the refrigerator for the night.

At dawn, after a bath, the oil lamps would be lit and Mom would begin creating the flower carpet. The whole thing evokes a beautiful image: pure, festive and fresh.

It is more than fifteen years since I moved out of home and been largely on my own. Left to myself I wasn’t too keen on pulling out petals from flowers or mustering up the belief and enthusiasm required for throwing myself head-on into any traditional festivity.

Onam is a festival celebrated to welcome back the most righteous King Mahabali. Legend says that all were equal under his rule and this did not bode well with the Gods in the heavens. They tricked him into given them back their kingdom. Mahabali lost all but was granted the boon of visiting his subjects annually.

This Onam eve I had a thought. Our legends and our myths are as much part of us as our daily routines. For sheer practical reasons one cannot be slipping into the realm of legends every other day! Why not create something!  I had a bunch of lively colored Impatiens in bloom. Inspired I set out making my own flower arrangement aided by newspapers, green-tea stirrers, pebbles, lotus scented candles and strategically placed pots of impatiens. It is a possibility that Mahabali would have been pleased too!