For city folks, the mention of Onam would conjure images of ready made kits that range from payasam kits to ready to eat onam fare! Unlike in the past, no body has the time nor the patience to begin the preparations from ‘atham’, which marks the beginning of onam festivities. For many, Onam is a day for a well deserved family vacation or an overseas sojourn. With the advent of budget airlines flying to exotic island paradises like Maldives or Seychelles, vacations have become easy as never before. The legendary king of ‘mahabali’ who visits his folks once in every year, is sure to have a startling surprise at the city homes as most of them would be locked up with its inhabitants enjoying exotic holidays or the watch man of these gated communities turning away the ‘king’ without allowing him to make a peek into the lives of his subjects!
Even for those who would be staying back in Kerala, it would be a day of readymade onam feast in a five star hotel, loads of Onam entertainment TV programmes and shop hopping in some glitzy super malls, graced by salesmen in the garb of ‘mahabalis’! Onam still continues to be the synonym of shopping for urban folks, where they splurge on some of the hottest home appliances to grab a few eyeballs. It happens to be one of the biggest annual shopping extravaganza of keralites and the peak sales season for shop keepers. Discount sales, exhibitions and fairs galore to entice cash laden customers; sadly, for the fast paced urbanites, Onam has become nothing but yet another shopping festival.
Keralites have indeed lost the essence and virtues associated with this festival. These days, corruption rules the roost and in the mad race to grab fortunes are we trampling over our virtues that were held so dear by our legendary king who dreamed of a virtuous and truthful society?
In the countryside, still streaks of festivity and gaiety that go hand in hand with this grand festival can be seen. Most of the homes try to retain the quintessential charm and flavour of this festival without being eroded by the onslaught of time. They make floral carpets on all ten days preceding onam and spruce up the home and the courtyard leaving no stone unturned in extending a grandiose welcome to the legendary king.
Banana chips, pickles of various varieties and other sweetmeats would be made at home. Swings and songs add up to the festive milieu of Onam. The family members partake of an elaborate onam feast with both milk and jaggery payasams and over a dozen curries! The only similarity they share with their urban counterparts would be the shopping spell that might break the bank of many, where new clothes for every family members and home appliances will be purchased with zest.
Malayalees often face the predicament of how to address people in a social circle. Though the changing life styles have brought in a deluge of anglicized terms like ‘uncle’ and ‘aunty’ into the list of terminologies of an average Keralite, it has resulted in more disadvantages than advantages.
Many a time, the blatant overuse of these stereotype words could turn an interesting conversation sour. There are no hard and fast rules on addressing a person aptly in this society. Many malayalees have made their own rules and assumptions to add these suffixes. The common yardstick employed includes calling every married person, ‘uncle’ or ‘aunty’ as the case may be, which might not make sense at all. Someone in their mid thirties who happen to be unmarried, calling a married woman of 20 ‘aunty’ is nothing but a blunder.
Servants and bus conductors use these words 24×7 without sparing a thought towards the context or the milieu. A much more refined approach would be to address a person by his first name rather than the ‘one size fits all’ ‘chettan’( brother) and ‘chechi’ (sister) monologues, which are not just offensive but also could sound crude and out of place to at least some.
For instance, don’t you think addressing a person as Mr. George would sound more refined and suave rather than calling him ‘chettan’? While addressing strangers, general terms like ‘excuse me’ and ‘hello’ would be definitely better than the above mentioned terms that are fast losing their sheen due to overuse.
The baffling part is that while Malayalees go all out in tagging along the Indian way of thinking that “all Indians are brothers and sisters’, this notion is totally missing in most of their deeds. The ever increasing incidents of rape, murder and eve teasing bares this naked truth threadbare. It is high time that the residents of this state take a retrospection of the disparity between their words and deeds and do something to bridge this glaring gap.
Kochi by playing host to the Volvo Ocean Race 2008 has joined the celebrity league of a selected few countries. The Volvo race is the world’s most prestigious offshore round the world yacht race, and is touted as the most challenging team-sporting event in the genre of ocean race and Kochi is the only port of call in India, making it all the more special to this city.
The seven yachts taking part in the race will reach Kochi in December 2008 from Cape Town and will stay from December 3 to 13, for 10 days in its waters, before starting leg three to Sentosa Island in Singapore. A race village spread over 2.5 acres will be set up near the BTP berth at Willingdon Island. Cochin Port Trust plays host to the esteemed India Stopover of the Volvo Ocean Race, considered to be the ultimate in extreme adventure sport.
Volvo Ocean Race will be viewed by over 1.8 billion television viewers in over 180 different countries, which puts the Volvo Ocean Race in the league of the 20 largest sports events in terms of global media coverage, at par with the World Soccer Championships and the Olympic Games.
A fund of rupees 30 crores is allocated for the infrastructure development at Willingdon Island to ensure a smooth conduct of the event. The 600 square meter exhibition pavilion will be one of the top notch attractions of this Stopover period. Food courts serving an array of international cuisines will be yet another attraction of the Cochin leg of Volvo race. Many business magnates such as Erricson, and Puma would be sponsoring.
The Race Village and the Team Area in the Port premises will have a media center with all modern communication facilities to cater to scores of national and international media personnel from print and digital media.
A few Olympic gold medalists in yachting, participating in the event, would add specks of glamour to this event. Kerala Tourism Department and other bodies including the Yachting Association of India will be in charge of the publicity of this event to make it a big success.
The busy Cochin shipping port is one of India’s foremost tourist destinations and the Volvo race stopover would bring a further impetus to the tourism prospects of Kochi in particular and the State of Kerala in general. The Kerala State Tourism Department is cashing on the popularity of this event which is expected to draw thousands of tourists from far and wide that will usher in an economic boom this tourist season.
Volvo race is befitting tribute to the impeccable seafaring legacy of Kochi that dates back to hundreds of years when spices were traded through the sea routes of Kochi by the Portuguese traders.
Though industry watchers and businessmen might label hartals as anti-productive, the startling fact is that the majority of Keralites, comprising of the salaried class and students look forward to hartals eagerly.
This incident that took place on the latest hartal day in the cultural capital of Kerala, Trichur drives home this point with élan. Normally, most of the shops and markets in Kerala close by 8 Pm or even early. However on the day preceding the hartal day, the streets were crammed with avid shoppers who were out to finish the last minute shopping to make the hartal day a memorable holiday.
Long queues were seen in front of liquor and meat shops. Bakeries, provision stores and vegetable shops too witnessed record crowd that resembled the Onam festivities, which is only an arm’s length away. People were not leaving anything to chance and were hoarding all the ingredients to whip up a joyous day.
The local folks make the maximum use of this unscheduled holiday to visit friends and relatives too. Hartals undeniably mean lots of lip smacking cuisine, a relaxing sleep and tons of music and movies to the ordinary malayalees.
Though Kerala does not flaunt any significant position in the fashion map of the country, the younger generation of this tiny state is fast catching up with the changing trends of fashion. The best part is that these style statements transcend the barriers of money and status.
You can see young men sporting goggles, stone wash jeans and figure hugging t-shirts zooming past in the latest mobikes. If you thought that these were young professionals in reputed companies with a fat pay then you would be for a surprise. These men could well be masons or construction workers who would be engaged in the many high rise buildings in and around Cochin. They spend a lion’s share of their daily earnings in beauty parlors to sport a trim and prim look.
Most of these youngsters have a fetish for all the latest trends such as coloring or straightening the hair. They wear metal charms and trinkets, pierce earlobes and wear flashy stone studded studs. Huge navigational watches and blings of all possible makes and colors too find a place in their wardrobes.
These youngsters closely follow the fashion statements in Bollywood movies and try to emulate them in their lives.
So, next time when you answer the door bell to a dashing young man in flashy attires and smart demeanor, it could well be your painter or plumber- something unique of this state that you won’t come across in other parts of this country.
By now, the general public in the “God’s own country”, Kerala would have lost count of the hartals and strikes that have eaten into their normal working days, which throws their normal life out of gear. Even while writing this, some trade unions have given the clarion call of yet another strike is Kerala, which is just limping back to normalcy after going through the harrowing experience of a bus strike, which had paralyzed the public transport network only a few days back.
The last bus strike call, which was made by the bus owners association against fuel price hike, still remains fresh in the memory of the hapless populace. The only change this time is that the strike call was given by the employees demanding better wages and service conditions. Caught in between the cross fires of these two warring factions, the general public suffers the maximum.
No matter what the reason or motive of hartals, it is the unfortunate ordinary mortals that are victimized. However, holding the general public to ransom to attain their personal goals is not a healthy trend in any civilized society. The public has no umbrella organizations with political affiliations to take up their genuine causes and in the bargain gets a browbeating almost always.
It is high time that the knowledgeable people of Kerala muster enough courage to stand up against this malice with renewed vigor and zeal to make it a model state in its truest sense.
The real estate deals in Kerala are monopolized by a powerful land mafia, which operates with the support of politicians and bureaucrats, who would bend the rules to suit their needs. Customers find it difficult to finalize the property deals themselves as brokers try to scuttle the deals to drive them into their dragnet. A majority of property transactions take place through intermediaries, who reap a fortune by way of a huge brokerage fee.
Brokers would let their imagination wild and resort to all possible tricks to seal the deal. This incident that took place in the Northern Kerala district of Calicut, reiterates this fact. A prime plot right in the hub of the city with an old dilapidated house was the bone of contention between the owner and the brokers. After trying out all tricks up their sleeve, a broker who wanted to usurp this property at a fraction of the original cost decided to play this prank.
It all happened with a digital snapshot that was taken by a group of youngsters who had come to this city to attend a marriage. They were hand in glove with the realtor cartel and they ensured to click a few snaps with the house at the backdrop. Lo behold, what followed was sheer imagination and wild rumors that would give the latest Hollywood thrillers a run for their money. The image of a ghostly figurine in white garbs standing inside the uninhabited house, send shivers down the spine of many. The news spread through cyberspace and media gave it due publicity, which aired fanciful stories and in a way substantiated the claim of the broker that the house is haunted.
People began thronging this place from far and wide to have a glimpse of the young female ghost at the middle of the night, which created disturbance to the residents of the nearby houses. Soon it became a law and order problem and police had to get involved to crack the mystery. The owner decided to demolish the house to douse the flames of fancy and soon normalcy returned. The owner who refused to buckle under the pressures and tactics of the land mafia still enjoys the ownership of this prime piece of land in one of the fastest growing cities of Kerala. If every ordinary citizen takes a cue from this incident, the tentacles of the land cartel could be smashed in no time.
Though this catchphrase would remind you of the title of a famous paperback, in real life too it can be a useful yardstick in measuring the way the male and female genres think!
Try asking your wife sitting at the rear of the car for directions and she would almost always guide you by dropping hints of famous landmarks like a shopping mall or a jeweler’s shop. Now spare a thought at a role reversal when the female is behind the wheels. The man would inevitably guide the driver by a few road map style instructions such as ‘turn right, go 100 mtrs to the East and turn left’, which a female might often find hard to digest and comprehend!
The same applies to their behavior in public transport as well. The female commuters, even while waiting in the stop for the bus to come would not care to take out the money and keep the change ready. Once inside the crowded buses these ladies would indulge in all types of acrobatics, to have a grip on the bar, to fold their umbrellas and to open the purse to hunt for the coins to be given to the conductor, which at times would test his patience.
Men on the other hand keep everything from their wallets to pen and mobile phones in their shirt pockets, which makes easy for them to come up with the exact fare in no time. No matter whether they are in an ATM counter or a shop, they would dig out their plastic or wallet in a jiffy. Though these habits would make them easy games for pick pockets, they seem to enjoy their easy go lucky behavior.
At home front also things are no different. A beggar seeking alms would run a fair chance of covering more houses if the man answers the door bell. If the lady of the house chooses to open the door, his fate is sealed for the day as he would be made to wait for hours together. First she takes the key of the wardrobe from under her pillow to open the cash chest and searches for the coin box for some time before she remembers that a few coins are lying on the TV stand. She leaves the chest half open to run to the living room only to find that those coins were missing. She scrambles back to the cash chest to continue with the search. In all probability the hapless beggar would have left in frustration, before the lady succeeds in fishing out the coins from her well treasured reserves.
Kerala has the dubious reputation of having the poorest civic sense rating in spite of being one of the most progressive and literate societies. Though most of the families live in plush apartments and palatial houses in well kept interiors, they forget the basics of cleanliness once they step out on to the roads. You can see many people throwing plastic bags full of trash and garbage into public roads and rivers in the darkness of the night. Most of them do it in style by dropping it in their swanky cars or bikes.
So next time when you take an early morning stroll through some of these plush housing colonies, spare a glance towards any missiles of trash that may scuttle past you or land on your face from a high floor apartment lining these pedestrian lanes. Though the city corporation is trying to make sensible waste management a healthy habit, malayalees still prefer to dispose it on roads. As they say, old habits die hard and unless stringent rules are framed and the culprits brought under the law, this habit cannot be nipped fully.
This is an interesting story that happened around ten years ago, when Kerala villages retained a distinct rustic charm unlike today when there is not much difference between the rural and urban life styles.
We went to a remote village of Pallasana in Palghat district on the invitation of a family friend in connection with the temple festival there. The house had no road access and we had to walk through the paddy fields after parking the car across the road. It was a huge homestead that housed a joint family of over 25 members. The day began at the crack of the dawn for the inmates and much before the sun appeared on the horizon, breakfast was ready, which included boiled bananas and upma, well complemented by steaming cuppa of freshly brewed coffee.
By evening we set out to the temple, which was a few minutes walk from this house. The head of the family and a few female members volunteered to escort us. They were carrying lighted dried fronds of coconut tree as there were no street lights anywhere. Fireflies and moths fluttered around as we waded our way along the paddy fields to the accompaniment of the chorus of frogs and crickets. The temple was fully lit with oil lamps and we could hear the sounds of percussion instruments from a distance. The ‘siveli’ was going on with the caparisoned elephants adding specks of exuberance to the milieu.
After offering our prayers, we took a vantage position in front of the make shift stage, eagerly awaiting the cultural programmes to start. We had planned to stay the whole night there and had come fully prepared with sheets of old news papers to squat on the ground and bottles of water and packets of munchies to keep the sleep at bay. The kids in our group were busy buying balloons and bangles from the vendors who added strokes of color with their vibrant displays. The stalls selling lime juice, black coffee and snacks were also doing brisk business. The elephants were tied to a huge banyan tree in the nearby plot and some kids were prodding the mahout for a few strands of hair from the elephant tail, which is believed to bring good luck while others were feeding them palm fronds.
The cultural feast had a rich smattering of folk and classical dance and music while ‘kathaprasangam’ was an exotic medley of song and narration. Kathakali was the last item in the agenda and the electrifying drum beats, made us wide eyed. The story was the abduction of Sita by Ravana. By the time, it was finished it was already 4 am and we scrambled back home after an exhilarating night out at a Kerala village.
After ten long years, during our next visit, we were astonished at the changes that have swept the village and its temple festival. Now, this village is electrified and has well laid roads. The temple festival too is only a pale shadow of its erstwhile glorious picture. It has become more of a celebrity show with film stars and TV starlets stealing the show, where the traditional art forms are given a back seat.