Malayalam writers on celebrating Vishu that falls in the middle of COVID-19 lockdown

Kanikkonna in full bloom   | Photo Credit: KK Najeeb

It is again that time of the year when the laburnum blooms in golden cascades and Vishu, the spring festival, is observed in many Malayali homes around the world. However, this year, the festival, which celebrates the bounty of nature, will be in the middle of a lockdown to stop and slow the spread of COVID-19. So the celebrations are muted and in empathy with those battling the pandemic.

Like many of his brethren, author Susmesh Chandroth, working with a visual media production firm in Kolkata, was planning to visit Kerala during the festival. “But all that has been put off now. For Malayalis, Vishu in 2020 will be unlike any we have experienced in the last 100 years or so,” says Susmesh.

Susmesh Chandroth

Susmesh Chandroth   | Photo Credit: PV SUJITH

Writer and scenarist Unni R feels that perhaps, for the first time in the history of Kerala, this Vishu will pass as just another ordinary day in our lives. “After all, when the death toll (from the Coronavirus) balloons by the day and fear engulfs all around, I do not know how we can celebrate Vishu. I believe it would be a generous and beautiful gesture to curtail the elaboration of our customary sadya on the day and consider it a meal that can be shared with someone who may be in need of it this time,” he believes.

Unni R

Unni R   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

The Meesha author and screenplay writer S Hareesh points out that these are all man-made customs and practices. “At present, places of worship are out of bounds for most people. This year, the Haj has been withheld and the Thrissur Pooram will be held only as a ritual without the pomp and pageantry associated with it. Last year, there were many who were agitated because they were worried that elephants may not be paraded as part of the Pooram. It would be nice if people remember that it is we who create all these festivals and traditions.”

S Hareesh

S Hareesh   | Photo Credit: Rajeev Prasad

He says he himself will have a simple home-made vegetarian sadya. “I don’t have this practice of arranging a Vishukkani (when vegetables and seasonal fruits are arranged in a bowl in the pooja room) and I will continue that practice,” he adds.

Although Vishu celebrations are always grand in Kozhikode, KP Sudheera’s home town, she says that celebration is the last thing on her mind this time. “Although Kerala is tackling the pandemic in a good way, I am worried about the lakhs of people across the world who are battling the virus. I can empathise with the plight of non-resident Malayalis who look forward to Vishu and the summer vacation to come home to meet their families,” she explains.

KP Sudheera

KP Sudheera   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Anita Nair says that for the last two years, she had spent Vishu in her cottage in her village at Mundakottukkurussi in Palakkad district. “It was as basic as it could get with what was available — a sprig of Konnappoo (laburnum), a coconut, a hand of bananas, a ‘kani-vellarikka’, the mandatory mirror, mundu, rice, gold and coins. And since I live alone in my cottage, I would light the lamp with half-closed eyes and open them wide to see the ‘kani’. My caretaker there, Sundaran, was the first person who I saw on Vishu day for the last two years. I remember him asking me why I didn’t have apples and grapes in the ‘kani’ plate. And I remember telling him that I didn’t think apples and grapes grew in Kerala so why on earth would that appear in the kani plate?”

However, this year, Anita is in Bengaluru with her husband and son “who are both atheists and late risers [in all honesty, I don’t know which is worse with reference to Vishu] and so I intend to see my kani in my library.” She adds: “Only this time there will be no konnappoo or kani vellarikka but as the superhero in heaven is a great one for irony, there will be apples and grapes for that’s what’s available. In my library, there are books and paintings, music and plants and everything that I hope my year will be blessed with. And this year, I am going to try making my ela ada with all-spice any Malayali will tell you, we are the masters and mistresses of making do. And so it shall be.”

Anita Nair

Anita Nair   | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

Translator, academic and author J Devika writes in an e-mail: “I must confess that I do not plan to celebrate Vishu at all. In our region, Vishu and other festivals still mostly mark the rhythm of seasons and the agricultural calendar that accompanied it. Climate change ensures that this rhythm is now broken, the agricultural calendar is non-existent simply because we have turned away from farming!”

J Devika

J Devika   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Anita recalls that on the day of Vishu in Kerala, she used to go across to her parents’ home to see them. “We have no more fields and I haven’t seen a plough in years. Nevertheless, in my effort to be as traditional as possible, last year, I also made the ela ada, which is used to worship the plough.”

Susmesh adds that as a writer, he has observed that pandemics or disease outbreaks have lent themselves as stark themes for great literary works such as Albert Camus’ The Plague or Kakkanadan’s Vasoori. “Even iconic authors in Malayalam such as O V Vijayan and M T Vasudevan Nair have touched upon elements of the theme in their works. In the present context, the virus has destroyed the idea of boundaries and it highlights the need for us to stay together as a community this Vishu,” says Susmesh.

With inputs from Athira M, Harikumar J S, Priyadershini S, Saraswathy Nagarajan

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Printable version | Oct 22, 2021 5:37:39 AM |

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