Today was Kairali Belapur’s Onam celebration. Kairali is one of the few communities in whose activities I show an interest. Having worked in associations such as Bombay Management Association and ASCI (not to mention the church committee) I lose interest in these communities very fast. They are the playgrounds of a few ambitious individuals and I tend to keep away.
Now, that’s said.
The rain doesn’t stop. The sky is a uniform grey like a sheet of steel has been riveted over it. There are what are called cultural programs. Songs and dances by children of members (the children giving everything, carrying a tune in their breaking voice, which really breaks my heart because I didn’t have time to attend Ronnie’s cultural programs in school), a quiz or two, a dignitary in the form of a smiling member of the municipal council who comes when the program is all but finished. She proceeds to give a speech, but nobody listens to her.
We troop down to where the Onasadya is being served. I am hungry and so is wifey. Ronnie is busy so he didn’t come. He used to enjoy this when he was a small kid, those many years ago. I guess I am growing old. The first batch of people has already found their places and we wait for seats to clear for the second round so to speak. I am feeling hungry and the smell of rich food is assaulting my senses.
Children bawl, mothers tell them to shut up. The rain falls. I try to take it all as an experience, an intuitive kind of experience. No, not as a gathering of people slurping sambhar, ten types of vegetables, payasam, ada pradhaman, pickles, avial (I typed avial and word processor changed it to “Avail,” he…he…), and sambhar.
We then sit down to eat all the abovementioned on plantain leaves. The secret is to eat slowly and savour each dish giving rise to the ultimate in a culinary experience. So I put each morsel dunked in sambhar slowly and seductively into the mouth, not in the wildly excited way in which pigs hog. Just the same as the man next to me is doing.
The man, well, I haven’t even spoken to him, asks my permission to get up. My permission? I am aghast at first. Then I look around and give it. It’s just a nicety. “Onashamsakal,” I say.