Thursday, April 15, 2010

An English Vishu

Even Procrastination lost out on the will of my term papers to complete themselves.

So here I am, on my first Vishu - think this is my first out of India.

Vishu has always been a special one for me...We Malayalis (who for brevity shall be called Mallus) with more Commie blood running through our veins than we care to admit don't celebrate any extravagant Hindu festivals that normally ensures a steady supply of sweets throughout the year. In fact, come to think of it, Mallus have few sweets to claim as their own, except for maybe the cloyingly annoying halwa and the yummy not necessarily over-sweetened payasams..

Hmmm...so that leaves the Mallus with two festivals... Onam the harvest festival and Vishu - its popularly considered as the New Year...but then there's the controversial technicality of the calendar and associated complications to deal with for Chingam is technically the first month of the Malayalam calendar..So let's just say 'Happy Vishu' and avoid the controversies,shall we...

But Vishu is special..especially when you are a child...All the elders ensure that the younger ones receive Vishu kaineettams( aka Vishukettam)..Every year, rate of inflation too applies...Only the 'Uncle Scrooges' ( there are many in every family) stick to the traditional token money...your favourite aunts and uncles of the family are obviously the ones who have those really shiny BIG notes...and they are very generous with them too...The Gulf uncles and aunts send in their contribution to the kiddy funds and ensure someone senior does the proper rationing...I used to have a big fat purse readied well in time for Vishu...The advantages of belonging to a very very large and mostly generous family ( our branch of the big tharavad alone is over a hundred members)..so do your calculation as to how fat the earnings are....

Waking up in the morning for the Vishukkani that would be set up the previous night itself was a highlight...You wake up around 5AM latest for the kani...and normally children are fast asleep at that time...Even though you'd see the preparations for the kani before you went to sleep, that sight was something to behold...When my grandfather was alive( my maternal grandparents lived with us) he used to be particular about getting a stiffly starched mundu folded into a magnificent fan and decorating the kani with the best jewellery my ma had...Later after muthachan passed away, my dad took over the role of the patriarch...as a child you would be gently woken up by an elder, and told not to open your eyes, for the first sight of the day has to be the kani....eyes gently held shut by warm hands, you are led silently with just whispered instructions as to where what is...you stumble along till you are asked to sit down, 'eyes tightly closed' would come the next instruction.....your hand would be guided to the waiting tumbler of water...some taken and you gently wipe your eyes and open it to a wonderful vision....The kanikonna ( Golden shower tree) against the soft flickering lights from lamps lit inside cut coconut shells and the magnificent brass lamps...there would be all kinds of fruits and vegetables arranged in platters too...the logic being that you must open your eyes to prosperity in the household and that would ensure a prosperous year...Ahhhh...I don't think I do justice to the magnificence of that view....

Once the kani is over...its time for the elders to lighten their purses while ours begin bulging over the day...My ma used to have a lot of fun offering to count my cash for me...with me suspiciously looking at her and refusing her gracious gesture...for once my maths was perfect, I didn't need anyone to tell me how much I had...And then we got to the crackers...So much fun bursting them till the darkness before the dawn gave way to bright sunshine...

I would kill to just be home for Vishu every year...It's a day that guts me...Just on two days of the year, I yearn for a sumptuous Mallu sadya...on Vishu and on Thiruonam day...My home would end up becoming the meeting place for what can only be called a Potluck Sadya...All my ma's sisters - equally fabulous cooks- would divide the multiple dishes to be served at the sadya and then everyone would get together and have a glorious sadya...Thats the picture of my half-relished sadya at home, last year...

After I began earning and became a well-paid journalist, giving good vishukaineetams to my cousins and extended family took on a sense of pride...But this vishu, now that I'm back to impoverished student days, there are no vishukaineetams to give...hopefully the little ones' in the family won't feel the loss of one set of currency notes....

So how did my Vishu go? I write this with a sense of loss....

My kani? My mobile at 8.30AM as it shrilled my ear drums into numbness...followed by a cursory check of my mails and the assortment of Vishu greetings...
I had croissants for breakfast...well baked by a good friend, but that's not Vishu breakfast now is it?
No set mundu or Kerala saree or pattu pavadas for me...I had to be at my part-time workplace..so pulled on trousers and a sweater...
While sadyas were served all around Kerala, I had some hummus and oatmeal biscuits for lunch...as I write it, I feel more sorry for myself...
Hopefully this evening, when my friends finish their term papers, I'm hoping to head to Brighton for some Sri Lankan dosas..that's the closest to a South Indian meal I'll get to in Brighton...
Do I feel like cooking to get over this homesickness? Naaaah...I might do that some other time...
Even Vishu does not shake the Lazy Procrastinator up much...just some nostalgic memories bringing out a maudlin smile....

Happy Vishu to all Malayalis...and I hope everyone has a wonderful year ahead...

13 comments:

  1. Happy Vishu to you too.

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  2. HAPPY VISHU TO YOU AND YOURS!!

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  3. Not very different from mine, being the only Malayalee in the family!!!...real funny, eh?...2 festivals...2 sweets!...hey you forgot the chakkavarati!...now that's unique!

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  4. Thank you guys...:) English Version of Vishu was really frugal...but what the heck..

    Nalini: Chakkavaratti..yumm..i could spread it on toasted bread and have it as jam...and yes, i wonder why diwali never became as big..even navaratri..other than books being kept for pooja, what celebrations do we have like the tams and the gujjus and the punjus...

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  5. Ha very Happy Vishu :) loads of luck for the new year...

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  6. Very happy Vishu to you..

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  7. This is post has been my favourite so far. Your description is soo beautiful. The yellow flowers made me nostalgic, I remember my dad used to teach me names of flowers as a child. :)this one is Cassia fistula.
    Food tastes so much better when served on banana leaves.
    thanks

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  8. Thank you so much Farila, LP and Zubin...LP, is there a sizeable indian community in Lancaster? Do you get to sense the impending arrival of festivals there??

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  9. Too bad the only Indian food you could have on Vishu was a Sri Lankan Dosa... and other than Onam-vishu Kerala is really festival challenged compared to other Indian states...and you hate halwa too??

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  10. Hey.. hope u have a better Vishu this time round :)..

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  11. hariprasad (unni)14 April 2011 23:44

    happy vishu to all.....!!!!!!!!!

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