In ‘God's own Country’ all festivals are a blessing, it doesn’t matter which God has graced as long as it’s a holiday.
Everyone loves holidays, but the Malayalee or Mallus just relish a stolen one, so they innovate to have frequent flash holidays, in the guise of a protest march or a union march, for it takes only two Mallus, a flag and a mike to form a union.
These marches of protest are against their employers, demanding a pay hike, or against the ruling government (which is always in the news and always on a clever balancing act).
Protest marches, do tend to slow down the traffic— the public is fed up, the cops are on duty but the eye of the media is recording, and all their families will gather hoping to catch a glimpse of their loved ones on TV. If the strike doesn’t get a response, the wives console them: “It was good exercise, you needed one”
Onam is the big day of reunions, of families and friends from all over the world, all the Mobile Mallus head home: it's celebrated by people from all religions, and even the political parties unite to celebrate.
And why not? After all, there are 10 days of holidays. And so much to do: messaging or forwarding ‘Happy Onam’ that keep the phones buzzing devotional ringtones. Very unlike those prosperous days of Mahabali when nothing was electronic.
Ten days of feasting on exotic Veg dishes, most of them elaborate and impossible to be cooked in a microwave. And of course there are grand moms' special cookies, that we Mallus are nostalgic about, to keep crunching and munching, and recalling the past— when a dollar was only Rs 45 and America had only white presidents. Crisp, brown, fried vadas dipped in coconut chutney only add to the spice of gossip.
Special food is always associated with different festivals and places of worship. What’s the point of going to Tirupathi, if we don’t return with coconut sized ladoos? The Coconut is after all the all-embracing darling fruit of Mallus. Just about every part of this blessed tree unite and contribute to the major percentage of an average Malayalee’s body composition— that is, without the external oil bath, and the toddy.
After an elaborate oil bath, and a swim in the pond, the women and children strip the plants bare of all the flowers and buds. And arrange them in colours and elaborate designs and compete for who makes them best, while launching into a variety of songs to welcome the soul of Mahabali, who is always on time. The talent of the women, the old and the young unfold, as they sway to the rhythm of traditional songs and dance, wearing new traditional clothes.
Then there are games and competitions, all cleverly designed to make every one participate. And when the women finally get bored, they adapt their steps to the popular disco numbers, the traditional decorative clothes are readjusted to free the legs and hands to mimic the wild dancing movie stars of India. This year it was the Lungi dance.
And for the women, there is plenty of gossip material: Aunt Mini whispers to niece Miss Bini: “Isn’t that the white girl the Boston wife of the soft ware boy, Shiju, the boy who went to study in the Amerika?" Miss Bini: “Look ! How cute ! That’s their curly haired son, aged six, he looks so white and ditto foreigner…. But he has inherited his grandfather’s exact nose. And grandma’s mischievous smile! No one else has got it in the family…blood and genes always flow into the future.”
Then there are special TV programs, with discounts, offers, and freebies, and super hit films beckon the women and kids. Breaking news of scandals under the solar gaze takes a backseat. The laughter of children blends with breaking coconuts at the family temple, while the cousins dress up and impersonate the Mahabali, take out a procession, sing songs and collect money, until twilight gives way to the moon.
The men get around to do the men thing— the secret Onam bash. They taste approvingly the just arrived, fresh nectar— natural intoxicant from the coconut tree— just to launch into nostalgia. They talk about seasons coming and changing time, then graduate to tender coconut with the latest flavoured Vodka that the Non Resident Mallu (NRM) has brought. “It doesn’t dehydrate with tender coconut,” they chorus. Those who want to keep their drinking a secret mix the vodka into the tender coconut shell.
The tender coconuts from back waters have a secret: they have a fizz more than any artificial cola, thanks, they say, to the blend of the salt water and fresh water, which creates a strange harmony for most unique variety of fish like Karimeen to breed, and of course also for the awesome and healthy brown rice, another favourite of the Mallu.
The Mallus laugh at the term Madrasi, dismissing it as the ignorance of the north. Likewise, the ignorant Mallu thinks that only till Maharastra border there is culture, rest is all agriculture. Jokes are plentiful. Heard the one that the Malayalees consume more Johnny Walker than the company distils, and can still walk home, with or without the lungi? When asking for direction, it's best to ask with reference to the liquor shops, since they are the most popular and busy landmarks all over the state.
The Malayalees are of course quite comfortable laughing at themselves in the company of NMs (non-Malayalees), NRMs ( Non Resident Mallus) and FRNMs ( Foreign Relatives Now Malayalees). They just need to imbibe a little before they loosen up — and open up: “ I will tell you a secret, but only if you keep it a secret”. The subtlety in blending sarcasm and humour is unfortunately lost in translation.
But still. You know 'God's own country' is only half of the saying. It's just for the tourists. The other half is that they are the 'Devil's own people.' That of course is just an example of our special Mallu ability to laugh at ourselves. Well, most of the time.
Onam brings together various experiences of NRMs, who have their own observations of different worlds, since they inhabit every part of the globe. And so the Mallu jokes are universal, second only to the Punjabi ones: "How does a Mallu baby cry?" "Visa visa visa.” He then goes to study in Amerika, and Karunakaran becomes Kevin Curren, gets a Yem Bee Yae degree, and then goes to Gelf to meet his ungle for a job. Jiji mon, is a baby sitter, and his wife Ani mol is a nurse in New Jersey. We Mallus are yevery where.
And in Kerala we are just not literate, we are all over- educated, we have degrees and PhDs— even to be a bus driver. It's out of Kerala and abroad that we work really hard and do any job, we miss our homes and families, but we make sure we save and send our salaries back home to family and to India, we make the foreign reserves swell. But, unfortunately, when in Kerala we hardly work. Because, you know, we have God's own treasures in the Padmanabha temple in Trivandrum much more than what is stashed in Swiss banks. We could reverse the dollar by God's grace.
The laughter is silenced by authoritative wife on speaker phone: Please stop all the gossip and laughing, the children can't sleep. Tomorrow is Thiru Onam, the big day Mahabali is coming! And one doubt Cheta, the Boston Chechi had a question: Was Mahabali a Malaylee or from Mythology?
Oh God! Once they become a legal Malayalee, they start questioning everything!
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