It was 1.45 am when Aral took me to the bus stand. The next bus to Chennai was at 2, which didn’t turn up. The next bus was at 4.30 am. A two-and-a-half-hour wait at the deserted bus stand, with biting cold and mosquitoes testing my fever-hit physique. I can endure things worse than this, but can’t afford the prospects of staying back in Bangalore during Onam…
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, they say. I longed for Onam like never before after I started living on my own. Lonely life in Chennai had made me terribly homesick, and I looked forward for the day. To make it appear nearer, a dear friend advised me to count just Sundays! There was another reason also — it had been a year since grandma died, and I had to be there to do the rituals. I couldn’t sleep in the train. Then I heard the sweetest voice I heard that year — that of a railway announcer: “Palakkad Junction welcomes you.” I rolled on, to sleep with a smile…
Four Ms and an O — Mammootty, Mohanlal, Mundu, Moustache and Onam — define a Malayalee, say my colleagues. For a person like me who has spent his first 22 years of his life in Malluland, Onam comes integrated within. It was a part of my life, always.
As a child, anticipation for the festivities would begin in August. Independence Day was a precursor. Then, like the big hurdle before the finishing point, would come the first quarter series of examinations — what we would call Onam exams.
The relief of the exams getting over makes the 10-day Onam holiday sweeter. Each Onam left me with a bounty of bittersweet memories — dressing up to play the leopard and the hunter; toy guns with rolls of fire rounds we call ‘pottaz’; a set of imported sketch pens; an envelope full of stamps; my childhood sweetheart; lonely nights at my grandma’s place; her death; my first homecoming after I moved out… And there was grandpa ready to put the mandatory swing on the big mango tree.
He left us last December. As per matriarchal tradition, my family should abstain from festivities for a year. I still don’t know what got into my head — maybe the growing up part had robbed the fervor for the festivity — but I decided that I won’t go home this time.
Life has taken us, the ‘kids’ of the family, to various places. We were too busy to bother about pleasures of the yore.
It didn’t take long to realise that I was wrong. I was turning restless. Then, my aunt called — an invitation to spend the eve of Onam at her place, in Vellore, six hours away from Bangalore. She was in no position to take a leave for Onam on Monday. My cousin in Chennai too was coming down. So I took the early-morning trip, braving the fever and the cold.
We had a good Onam feast. Onam songs playing from the computer and the special programmes in Malayalam channels did provide an ambience. Then, a call came from Malluland.
“We’re off to the temple. It’s only the two of us here,” said my cousin sister.
I should have been there, but here I am, miles away from what Onam means to me — my village, my home, my dear and near. I painfully realise that I am still a nostalgic, emotional fool. I still crave for my Onam.