The NRI Onam

Onam is the only festival Malayalees worldwide celebrate with much zeal and passion. Miles apart, home away from home, listen to the Onam ramblings of these wonderful women who have tried kept the spirit of Onam alive and kicking. Whichever part of the world they are, bonafide Malayalees can’t do without celebrating Onam.

Lavanya Varma: It has been over a decade since I celebrated Onam with my family. Back in 2011, when I was doing my M. Arch in the UK, I spent most of my time in libraries and architectural studios. My mom called me up and wished me a ‘Happy Onam’. There I was, covered in green sawdust and Styrofoam trees, exhausted after three sleepless nights, sipping on my 6th espresso, trying to stay awake and finish my models. Thanks to my gorgeous team mate’s Greek vitality and my (sometimes scary) optimism, we decided to prepare a little something. We had about 6 hours to the deadline. We rushed back to my apartment, made a Sambar (without tamarind and okra), ParippuPayasam (had to use thin wheat spaghetti instead of ‘semiya’) and rice. Walkers chips and Doritos served as Pappadam and the ‘Payasam’ moonlighted as ‘Pachadi’too. The dishes turned out to be alright! Who would’ve known? And to think about all the times I made a fuss about the color of the pappadam back when I was home with family. (Mom, my sincere apologies) But hey, that’s an NRI architect’s impromptu Onam. Here I’m doing my Architecture PhD in the US, reminiscing about the weirdest Onam I’ve had, while having an espresso and grading papers. Makes me wonder if things have changed at all… or whether I’m living in an infinite loop called life, like the Ouroboros. I wonder what’s in store for me this Onam!

Shari Nair: The season of Onam is here again and the thought itself brings back many nostalgic moments. One of the many disadvantages of being an NRI is that we not only miss the true spirit of the festival but also the pomp and pageantry associated with it. The first thought that springs to my mind are the large gathering of cousins we used to have in those days. Onam was a time when people used to gather together and were busy making dishes for taking around to their relatives . The festival itself spread a lot of happiness within the families. My memories of Onam are linked to Onakodi, Onasadya, and the rides on the swing… The taste of the sadya that included various homemade Kerala delicacies served on a plantain leaf still makes my mouth water. However being miles away from home we usually limit the dishes and many of these are now readymade. Onam thus takes me back to my childhood and I wish I could go back in time when I was able to be part of those beautiful get togethers, sumptuous sadyas, the excitement of wearing my new Onakodi, the fights between cousins as to who goes on the swing first, days of absolute fun and joy!!
Parvathy Unni: It is circa 2016 and this Onam marks the 7th one I am celebrating away from home. First memory you ask? Pookkalam! Being a Kid in the nineties, ours is probably the last generation who still went around the block collecting flowers for the atha pookkalam. One of the few times I celebrated Onam while I lived in my maternal tharavadu in Cherthala is the fondest Onam of all for me. I remember the chechi who helped with cleaning the lawn, laying the base for the pookkalam with cow dung mixed with water and I was astonished. Now that was something I wouldn’t know if I hadn’t spent those couple of years in a village in Kerala. But my favorite thing about Onam was not the pookkalam as a kid, it was the temporary oonjal that was put up on a tree in the backyard and I always looked forward to when it will be put up. Fast forward to 2016, this year I live alone in a New England city in the US. I make it a point to make at least a payasam on Thiruvonam day while in the US. This year is no different, a mini Sadya with all my favorite things starting with Injikari (which according to me is equivalent to a 1000 curries) made my day.
Shalima Sidhik: Onam to me is all about giving a gastronomical treat to the stomach. In my mind, it is always a time of sparkling joy, family bonding, and nurturing relationships. It is that time of the year where we all get together at our “Tharavadu” to organize a huge “Pookalam”. When I moved into the US, I was keen to be a part of Malayalee groups here, hoping that I would get to celebrate onam just the same way. I had a lot of interest in dancing as well. I still remember the first Onam celebration that I attended here. I felt so out of place, I didn’t know anyone. Was missing Onam back home badly. Fast forward to 5 years, today I feel great that I get to anchor the Onam celebration here. We are a bunch of 25 ladies, who manage time amidst work and household chores to put on a mega Onam show. This is followed by Sadya hopping from a friend’s place to another. I love the spirit of Onam. The festive mode brings positive aura into our lives. People who felt like strangers in the past are now like family, all thanks to Onam
Sudha Menon: Onam is my favorite celebration. My love for Onam goes back to my childhood memories starting from the 10-day long school vacation, dressing up in the new “Ona kodi”, plucking flowers from the neighborhood to arrange the pookalam, and of course, the mouthwatering Sadhya to top it all.
We have been living in West Chester, PA for the past 13 years now. Here we have  a small group of Malayalee community that puts a great Onam treat every year. We try to replicate almost everything in the traditional way. Men manage to wear the Mundu/Veshti, Women draped in Kasavu Sari, Kids roam around in lovey pattu pavada and jubba. How can anyone forget the vegetarian delight- OnaSadhya. Each family would make an item for the grand sadhya. Even some non-Malayalee friends are invited to enjoy the US adaptation of the Sadhya. Women manage to get together during weekends to practice Kaikottikali. Kaikottikali is usually followed by Karaoke- singing. Sometimes the festivities get extended into the evening chai and cheetukali as families begin to leave
For me, Onam is a festival that brings not just families but the whole community together. It is the time for lively camaraderie and fun. I feel blessed to be able to experience all this and keep the spirit of Onam alive all these years, 1000s of miles away from home. Look forward to many more opportunities to enjoy the festival and showcase the spirit of Onam to the next generation
What are your memories about Onam? We would love to hear from you. Comment on the link below..