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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

‘Onam is like an emotion’: Non-resident Keralites miss going home amid the pandemic

From missing out on the fun to splendid feasts, youngsters tell us what's it like to be away from their hometown during Kerala's biggest festival, Onam

Written by Jayashree Narayanan | Pune | Updated: September 22, 2020 9:06:42 pm
non-resident keralites, onam, missing onam, indianexpressThis year, many non-resident Keralites will be missing going back home to Kerala for Onam. (Illustration by Vishnu PP)

This is that time of the year when Malayalis from across the world come home to the Indian state of Kerala for the annual 10-day Onam festival. The festival, which celebrates the return of King Mahabali who had promised to visit Kerala once a year, sees people decorate their verandas with flower carpets or pookalam and enjoy the sumptuous feast called sadhya. The four main days of the festival are the ninth day known as Onnam Onam (meaning first Onam), the 10th or the main day known as Thiruvonam, and the following two days known as Moonam Onam (third-Onam) and Nalam Onam (fourth Onam).

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With the entire state in a celebratory mood during this period, schools are closed for all the 10-days while companies and other businesses usually observe a four-day holiday.

It is during this time that people, especially Non-Resident Keralites, look forward to participating in the festivities and spend quality time with their families. However, this year, owing to travel restrictions amid the covid-19 pandemic, the plans of many have been affected. Sharing snippets from previous Onam celebrations, some youngsters express how they feel about missing out on the sheer fun and family bonding time that the auspicious occasion of Onam brings.

Vimna Nambiar, 27, PR professional, New Delhi

onam festival, non-resident keralites, onam celebrations, indianexpress.com, indianexpress, pandemic and onam, Vimna Nambiar will celebrate Onam in Delhi with parents. (Source: Vimna Nambiar)

How would you describe Onam in Kerala every year?

Onam is very special to every Malayali and it becomes even more special if you reside outside Kerala as that is when we go back to the state. Whenever we go to Kerala for Onam, we celebrate all the 10 days. Even though it is difficult for every family member to be there due to work commitments, we try and plan our visit accordingly so that we all can meet each other at least once a year.

The day of Thiruvonam begins with my entire family visiting a nearby temple early in the morning. The actual fun starts when we all gather to make the pookkalam, and then prepare the grand Onam feast. Finally, the day ends with some relatives and neighbours visiting our place or us going to theirs.

What were your plans for Onam 2020?

We were all set to visit Kerala this year for Onam but the current situation forced us to cancel the plan. Though I will be with my family on Onam, nothing beats celebrating it in Kerala with grandparents and cousins. Being in Delhi, no matter how much we try, it’s very difficult to match the merriment and excitement back home. This time we will be missing all that.

One aspect of the festivities that you are going to miss the most?

It will always be having Onam sadhya with my cousins.

Karthika Haridas, 28, development engineer, Kawasaki City, Japan

onam festival, non-resident keralites, onam celebrations, indianexpress.com, indianexpress, pandemic and onam, Japan-based Karthika Haridas visits Kerala every year during Onam. (Source: Karthika Haridas)

How would you describe Onam in Kerala every year?

Family get-togethers in India are a different affair altogether. On the ninth day, my family and all my uncles, aunts and cousins visit our grandparents’ house. On the same day, grocery shopping is done, the house is cleaned and we try to finalise a design for next day’s flower carpet. On the main day, we all wear new clothes, Kerala saree for ladies and mundu for the men. After that, we go to the temple in the morning and my cousins and I do the flower carpet. The flower carpet we decorate on this day is usually bigger than other days as this is the main day. After that, we have the grand sadhya for lunch.

It is always fun and we play games and talk and watch TV. There would be someone dressed as Mahabali which is always fun. There are usually special programmes during this time, especially the boat race, which is fun to watch. On the third day and the final day, we usually take rest and start packing our bags again.

What were your plans for Onam 2020?

I manage to be in Kerala for every Onam. Luckily, every year Japan has a week-long holiday in mid-August and Onam always falls at the end of August or the beginning of September. It is according to the Malayalam calendar. So I used to club Japanese holidays and my paid holidays and spent a good two to three weeks in Kerala for Onam. It is really heartbreaking not to be in Kerala for this year’s Onam. This would be my first time away from home during Onam. Even my brother who is doing his bachelor’s at IIT Roorkee is not going home to avoid the risk of Covid-19.

How do you plan to celebrate in Japan?

I am taking a holiday from work that day and have invited my friends from Kerala who are also working in Japan to have a potluck lunch. This time, with Covid-19, we are not getting enough Indian vegetables and groceries in Japan. So the plan is to have simple sadhya with 5-10 curries, rice and kheer but definitely not on a banana leaf.

For the flower carpet decorations at my home’s entrance, I am planning to do it with flowers from my small balcony garden.

What do you miss most about Onam in Kerala?

Onam is like emotion to me. It is filled with joy and happiness. Being with your family is always overwhelming. I miss everything about Onam – the flower carpet, sadhya, wearing Kerala saree, and of course spending quality time with my loved ones.

ALSO READ | World’s first, fully floral interactive pookkalam at Technopark

Ranjit R Nair, 27, quality expert, New Delhi

onam festival, non-resident keralites, onam celebrations, indianexpress.com, indianexpress, pandemic and onam, Ranjit R Nair loves family time during Onam festivities back in Kerala. (Source: Ranjit R Nair)

How would you describe Onam in Kerala every year?

It’s a time when the whole family gets together and celebrates for 10 long days. For me, it’s all about catching up with my cousins and chit-chatting and getting flowers for pookalam from a nearby shop and then an auto ride with my uncle to get my mother and aunts the required vegetables for Onam feast.

What were your plans for Onam 2020?

I have not been to Kerala that often since I have started working. But I had the opportunity to celebrate the last two Onam in my hometown. We go there at least once a year. Its feels bad to not be able to go there this year. It’s 10 days of family fun, which is going to be missed.

So how do you plan to celebrate?

In Delhi, I won’t get to celebrate the 10 days. However, on Thiruvonam, we’ll start our day with pooja in the morning followed by a visit to the nearest temple. After coming back, everyone will get busy with the preparation of the Onam feast.

What do you miss most about Onam in Kerala?

Along with the blast that my cousins and I have, I will miss my grandmother the most. She’s 96 and the cutest person in the whole world.

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