The annual rainy season would start in Kerala in the first week of June. After that, for nearly three months, the land would get soaked in the incessant rainfall. Then the clouds would take a break and the sun will emerge to shine on the green fields and rich vegetation that covers the land. It is time for harvest; it is time for Onam; at least that’s how it used to be...
In 2012, no rain graced the land even weeks after the 1st of June. There are no green fields left to get soaked in the rain and no harvest takes place anywhere to call for a celebration. After three months of drought, when the heat became more oppressive than the hottest summer months, in a land that is fast turning into a concrete jungle, Onam arrives for yet another time.
The legend behind Onam tells of King Maveli visiting his kingdom once every year on the day of Thiruvonam. Rejoicing at the visit of their favourite king, the subjects dress in their best and sing and dance, announcing the arrival of Maveli. The house courtyards would be decorated with 'pookalams' using flowers plucked from the freshly bloomed plants. During the time of the king's arrival, coinciding with the harvest season, people would have the best meal in the whole year, in which would be served a whole variety of vegetable delicacies, known simply as 'onasadya'.
Mythologies aside, Onam is simply the time when people used to enjoy the fruits of their yearlong toil on land.
However, in the year 2012, Kerala has a minimal area of agricultural land and almost all of its traditional flowers have become alien to its children. The reasons that called for the celebration of Onam no longer exist in 2012. Yet, for every Malayali, Onam remains the biggest celebration of the year, and the celebration only seems to get bigger over the years.
An average Malayali of today is caught in an intense, almost psychotic, behavioural pattern of consumerism. Kerala, which was once a beautiful strip of land that yielded everything that its inhabitants needed, is now labelled as an unproductive strip of land whose population is interested only in amassing personal wealth. This wealth arrives mainly from foreign nations, especially the Gulf sector. The weakening rupee might be a nightmare for the nation, but it gladdens the heart of millions of Keralites who earn their wages abroad, in stronger currencies.
The self-centred nature of an average Malayali prevents him from indulging in social welfare for the betterment of the society as a whole. This curious behaviour of the population to indulge in private extravaganzas while forgetting about the primal needs for a welfare state has speedily deteriorated the once thriving production sector. It is safe to say that the state now owns virtually no share to most of the products that reach the market.
The two main highlights of Onam celebration is the 'pookalam' and the 'onasadya'. The flowers for the pookalam have been arriving from Tamil Nadu and other states for many years now. In spite of Onam loosing much of its traditional values, the sale of flowers is still on the rise every year during the season. But the rise in sale is negligent when compared to the rise in prices every year. And a lion's share of the profit made goes to the wholesale dealer who brings the flowers from outside.
Kerala has 80% of its food needs met through imports from other states, mainly Tamil Nadu. The event of Onam being a grand affair means a geometric rise in the demand for rice, vegetables and other food products. And every one of those extra demands made by the population on a shopping spree, in met through the trucks bringing in loads from the neighbouring states.
This same case repeats for every other product, including clothing, cutlery, electronic products, vehicles and fancy items. Even the annual fair that's conducted at the Kanakakunnu Palace Grounds for the Onam crowd is contracted to dealers from outside. The proportion to which the unproductive but ever-consuming population celebrates its most important festival has become so vital in many ways that Keralites can no longer afford not to celebrate Onam, even if they wanted to.
Apart from Kerala, the other three South Indian states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh account for a major share of the big business taking place in the nation. Kerala, and its ever-consuming population, represents a huge market for the businesses and Keralites celebrating Onam represent the biggest annual profits for many. An instance of Keralites not celebrating Onam would result in an adverse effect of significant proportions on the economies of these states, especially that of Tamil Nadu. So, the need is more for them than for Keralites themselves, to have Onam celebrated in the most fitting manner.
With the arrival of 'Chingam', the Onam season is also off to an official start. From being a festival where the celebration was for the people harvesting the fruits of their labour, Onam has now become a manipulative card for the inter-state business chain. The urge is still there for Kerala to celebrate Onam and keep up the yearly tradition, but more than symbolising the welfare of the state, now the celebration has more to do with aiding businesses outside the state in reaping massive benefits.
Onam is still celebrated by Keralites, but the real celebrators of Onam no longer belong to the land of Kerala.
image courtesy: flickr.com