In a time of loss, a bit of cheer on Onam in Kerala
A pookalam (traditional flower arrangement) made of dustpans, brooms and gloves to bring in the festival of Onam at a relief camp in Kerala said it all. Despite the horrendous flooding in which more than 250 people died, a million people were displaced and property worth thousands of crores destroyed, the resilient Malayali still retains a sense of humor.
Despite a fairly tough future -- chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan estimates that the state will take a decade to get back to norma -- the festival was celebrated across the state in a remarkable coming together of all faiths. The tragedy has unleashed a spirit of camaraderie and cooperation unseen in an intensely political state. Churches, mosques and temples have all done their bit to make Onam a a little happier for people.
According to the legend of Onam, a beloved king Mahabali was so popular that the gods felt threatened and banished him to the netherworld in a deceitful manner. But such was the longing of his subjects to see him again, that he was permitted to return once a year, on Onam when people await him with a grand feast, dressed in new clothes amid festivities such as the famous snake boat races. It is the story of the perennial return of the man who has lost his home and land, something the indomitably courageous Malayalis can take heart from at this time.
Kerala has much to celebrate in the manner in which the rescue and relief operations were conducted. Reports of unparalleled generosity from the rich and the poor and the proactive role played by the state government have given people hope in the midst of such devastation and loss. Even the controversy about foreign aid has not got much traction within the state which has been totally preoccupied with getting back on its own feet through its own efforts.
The government has done well to divert its Onam celebration funds for flood relief. The extent of loss and deaths have yet to be ascertained accurately but for one day, on Saturday, the people of Kerala set aside their grief in order to put their best face forward for a much loved king on his annual visit to the state. Well played, Kerala.