Probably the time you actually realize the true meaning of being a Keralite is when you are away from the state and the festivities you connect with go on in your land, albeit without you.
And when the king of all festivities, Onam, descend upon the coconut land, you try to curse away the distance and celebrate it with much fervor. That said, it's not an easy task to celebrate Onam in a non-Keralite setting, and the biggest obstacle would be whipping up that Onasadya with its umpteen dishes that sit so deliciously on the fresh green plantain leaf.
If you are the kind of non-resident Keralite who twitch their nose in approval when a bottle of kannimanga (raw mango pickle) is opened in your vicinity, you will get the drift of what I am saying.
It was the weekend before Onam and a Keralite woman living on the outskirts of Hyderabad was wondering how to celebrate the festival in the Nizam's land. It also happened to be her first Onam after her wedding (considered to be a big deal in Kerala and also by her mother-in-law).
The sadya spread. But how?
The first problem in making a sadya is to check whether the said chef is equipped with the required culinary skills to come up with a minimum of the 21 dishes for the spread. Even if you reduce the number to bare minimum, you need to have loads of coconut to make those delicacies. Is there a coconut scraper anywhere near the house? Finding a shop that sells one would require all the search skills of an explorer.
Armed with that, your next search is for the other ingredients. To the lady's dismay, it was revealed that starting from the brown rice and the all-too-important shallots for ulli sambar, things are hard to find in the IT land. Again you need to be the explorer and hunt down a Malayali chettan's shop to find these. These are not non-available goodies, but you need to begin the preparations at least a month before the Thiruvonam to have that elaborate spread.
And you'll have to forget the fresh plantain leaves, and procure the plastic substitutes to spread out the delicacies.
Outing on Onam anyone?
As the battle in the kitchen failed to bring out the desired results even after hours of hardwork, our woman came up with the next best option and decided to eat out on the Thiruvonam day. For a split-second, the image of her MIL hovered above her, before she brushed it aside and presented the idea to the man of the house. Once again, the duo spent considerable amount of time in fixing up a restaurant to enjoy the sumptuous meal. There are quite a few options, but all these restaurants rake up their prices during Onam. So, the feast for a single person would bounce up to Rs 300 or above. Add to that the long journey to these eatouts that inevitably would be on the other side of the town.
Malayali associations in NRK's land
There has to be Malayali associations and their Onam celebrations in whichever land you reside. But most often, these celebrations are held weeks before or after the actual day. Though the sadya, the Mahabhali and the traditional dance forms all burst onto the scene, these events would boil down to be yet another get-together of Keralites and not much of the 'real' Onam celebration.
That said year, the celebrations in Hyderabad were held in Secunderabad, almost an hour and half journey from her place of residence. The festivities included a mimicry show, ganamela (concert) and a thiruvatira kali as the couple sat among hordes of people under a makeshift pandal on a hot Hyderabad afternoon.
Three years have rolled by, it's time for yet another Onam celebration, and our lady is still making her plans for the Onasadya as the tickets for her family to travel back home have just been canceled!