Millions of Malayalis across the Gulf celebrated Onam, Kerala's traditional harvest festival, on Friday albeit in a low key manner due to Ramadan, the ongoing Islamic holy month of fasting.
Though the festival usually sees Malayalis thronging restaurants for Onam Sadhya, the traditional Onam feast, or family and friend gatherings in public, this time they have mostly restricted themselves to their homes. <b1>
Restaurants in the region served Onam Sadhya in lunch boxes as takeaways and did not open up dining areas.
A box containing the usual 21 items of Onam Sadhya is being sold for anywhere between 25 dirhams (Rs.311) and 40 dirhams (Rs.498).
"We always give boxes as well as dining experience in our restaurant but this time, due to Ramadan, we are offering only takeaways," Ramachandran, a chef at a popular South Indian restaurant in downtown Dubai, told IANS.
He said that this has not affected business and the crowd has been as good as before. "We have sold about 1,700 boxes till now," he said half-an-hour before closing the takeaway service Friday afternoon.
Friday is also the official weekend here. Ramachandran's Onam Sadhya boxes were being sold at 30 dirhams (Rs.374) each.
Meanwhile, many Malayalis have kept their family and friends get-togethers for the evening to coincide with Iftar timings. Most major Malayali associations across the region have also kept their Onam celebrations to after Ramadan and this time the festival has been more of a personal and family affair. <b2>
A vast majority of the over 4.8 million Indian expatriates in the six Gulf nations of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) hail from Kerala.
Skyrocketing inflation in the region has also hurt the pockets of people with many traditional Onam items not available at all or at prohibitive prices.
"Because of the Indian government's ban on the export of non-basmati rice, we have not been able to get 'ponya' rice which is so much in demand during Onam," a manager at a supermarket chain branch had told IANS.
The supply of 'matta' or parboiled rice, an important part of Onam Sadhya, from India has been severely hit this year.
Malayalis complained that they have not been able to procure this variety of rice and what was available was way too expensive.
In Qatar, local media reports put the price of 'matta', which was 5.50 Qatari riyals (Rs.69) a kg last month at QR11 (Rs.137) a kg now.
"This is because of the unaffordable and unreasonable price of Indian parboiled rice varieties," a shopkeeper in Doha was quoted as saying.
In such circumstances, people are compelled to buy Thai varieties of parboiled rice, which are priced between QR29 (Rs.362) and QR40 (Rs.500) for a bag of five kilos.
But a longtime Malayali resident in Dubai told IANS: "I don't know where they managed this from but I got Indian matta in the Onam Sadhya box I bought from a restaurant today and that too at a reasonable price!"