Spirit of generosity

Spirit of generosity
Festival of colours

The flame of a festive season burns brighter than ever, as treasured traditions give modern lives something to hold on to and experience what humanity is all about. The flame of a festive season burns brighter than ever, as treasured traditions give modern lives something to hold on to and experience what humanity is all about.


Suchitra Steven Samuel

Published: Thu 30 Aug 2018, 12:02 PM

Last updated: Mon 3 Sep 2018, 1:20 PM

Onam, celebrated in Kerala, coincides with the harvest of rice, the main crop in the state. It symbolises social harmony, where Keralites participate in the festivities irrespective of their religious backgrounds. It is the spirit of unity and brotherhood that prevails in the State.
This is a season of generosity - of giving and sharing - where family bonds are strengthened, and the occasion is usually celebrated in all its grandeur and glory. New clothes and traditional feasts spread out on plantain leaves set the festivities apart. Just the thought of the variety, the sumptuousness and the exquisite taste of food can make your mouth water. The culture of Kerala is showcased during Onam. The 10-day long festival begins with Atham in the Malayalam month of Chingam and culminates on the day of Thiruvonam. Each of the 10 days has a particular significance and a ritual to follow. During this time, the story of the benevolent King Mahabali is remembered. When he ruled the state, he ensured prosperity and equality for all. It is believed that the mythical king visits his subjects during Onam to find out about the well-being of his people. 
This year Malayalis wish each other 'Happy Onam' in a very conservative way. We all know why. The second week of August was very much like a horror movie unfolding in real life. Huge landslides brought multi-storied houses down. Flooding rivers carried with it everything within its path in full force. People were helpless as they saw water rising to catastrophic levels. Roads were breaking apart. The Kochi airport was closed causing inconvenience to travellers. Life indeed turned topsy-turvy. It became personal too when I got the news that flood water covered the ground level of our new house in Kochi.
These anxious days started as a voice message from my classmate who was caught in the flood as she travelled from Kochi to Thrissur. She had to abandon her car on the way, and get on to a tipper lorry to reach safety. Strangers helped her and others in the same predicament. Humanity united. And when money was offered to the good Samaritans, they refused, telling her "just help others who are in need." She, in turn, helped some students who were stranded on the road and unable to reach home. My friend was in a state of shock as she experienced the force of water, nature's fury in full strength.
Another friend's daughter had a different experience. Her wedding was in Chennai, and they were scheduled to fly from Kochi when the announcement came that the airport had closed down. So, the family hired a bus to travel to Chennai. As the bus reached Kuthiran tunnel, which is on the national highway stretch between Thrissur and Palakkad, there were landslides with no way for vehicles to move on. Locals at Chuvannamannu offered food and shelter to the people in the bus. The bride and her immediate family had to walk more than 3 km in muddy terrain to reach the other end of the mountain and then hired a tempo traveller to arrive on time for the wedding. Locals helped them carry their boxes. Her grandmother and uncles and aunts from the US and Kuwait were not able to attend the wedding. However, each member on the bus was thankful that they were safe although they had to wait for more than 24 hours to proceed on their journey.
With such an event happening so close to Onam, Malayalis have been examining themselves. The floods are a lesson to all of us to make a change in our lives, keep aside selfish needs and make lives easier for others. Schoolchildren, scouts and guides are doing their bit serving in relief camps. Thousands of people have risen to the occasion. Supplies are pouring into relief camps for displaced people. Schools, colleges, places of worship, irrespective of caste, creed or religion, opened their doors to one and all. Muslims cleaned up temples, and temples allowed Muslims to have Eid prayers where mosques were flooded. The fisherfolk of Kerala turned heroes as they saved hundreds of lives with commitment and dedication.
There are real-life stories of wealthy people having to stand in the queue to get food at the relief camps. It is a lesson on how unpredictable life can be. Nobody can predict what will happen tomorrow, but we can live each day making lives better today. Here in the UAE, several retail outlets have a wide variety of promotions and offers, and hotels even have special Onam luncheons for those who are unable to cook at home. So, go on, read and enjoy. Happy Onam and do take the time off to enjoy the togetherness with family and friends. 
- suchitra@khaleejtimes.com

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