Inside view Society

Onam in the time of consumerism

Illustration: Sreejith R. Kumar

Illustration: Sreejith R. Kumar  

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What will Mahabali encounter this year on his annual visit to Kerala?

“I wonder how Mahabali will react to Kerala this year,” mused my friend Indira, a doctor. “No idea,” I responded, adding the non-sequitur, “but my fridge is squeaky clean.”

My fridge gets its annual spring cleaning on Onam eve, but this time, I had been forced to clean it thoroughly a week before, an egg having broken inside it, drip-transporting the smelly yolk all the way through the shelves to the crisper drawer.

It took me the whole afternoon and half a bottle of liquid cleaner to get rid of the odour and I was fresh from that triumph, though perfumed with egg.

She thought I was being flippant and frowned. “Forget your fridge. Someone should warn Mahabali about what’s in store for him here. He expects to be welcomed with the warmth of spring - the season of flowers and bracing climate - but seasons are not regular any more. The climate is erratic, rain and sunshine alternate.”

Switching roles deftly from doomsday weather-forecaster to concerned doctor, she went on, “such weather is congenial for the Aedes mosquito eggs to hatch. Soon the adult mosquito is ready to relish human blood...”

“A slurping Dracula,” I interrupted. She frowned again and continued, “and spread dengue.”

“So Mahabali should have paracetamol, drink plenty of fluids and take rest,” I said, with the superior knowledge of one who had had dengue.

My friend looked horrified. “No, no, don’t jump to disastrous conclusions. He should not contract dengue; therefore he must protect himself with mosquito repellents. And does he know the flowers that greet him have been treated with chemicals? Touching or smelling them might result in an allergic reaction.” I nodded wisely and pre-empted her, “allergic rhinitis, sneezing, wheezing, watery eyes, runny nose.”

Allergic reactions are my live-in relatives. “So he needs to bring along antihistamines too.”

Fortunately she didn’t mind my hijacking her licence to prescribe. “Yes, and it’s the same with the vegetables and fruits that would be used to prepare the Onam feast. No longer are they harvested locally but are brought in from neighbouring states and laced with heavy doses of pesticides. And the oil!” she rolled her eyes.

“Coconut?” I prompted her.

“A thing of the past. Pure coconut oil has been foolishly substituted with supposedly healthy oils that are quite suspect. Everything used for the feast is refined stuff – from rice to dal to ghee. So where is the tasty, healthy vegetarian meal?”

“On the banana leaf?” I quipped.

“Be serious,” she looked stern. “The immediate result of gorging on all this poisonous food is acidity and gaseous distension.”

“Therefore Mahabali should carry digestive tablets and antacids,” I added. I am well up on across-the-counter medication.

“And maybe bottled mineral water. But he has been coming here every year. He should have seen this coming. He ought to be able to take things in his stride.”

“Not when he can’t even stride along the roads any more. Where is the space to walk? The roads are choked with vehicles. Cars are parked on pavements, policemen breathing through hankies are going crazy controlling traffic and shops are bursting with people jostling to avail themselves of bargain offers. There is so much noise around. Where is the clear air filled with the sweet fragrance of natural flowers? It is toxic exhaust fumes that one gets to inhale instead.”

“So maybe ear plugs and a facemask too?” I suggested. “It would be best for him to go modern and use a helicopter for an aerial view of Kerala. No traffic jam, no mosquito bites, no pollution, no allergies. But let’s look at it this way. Kerala gets a facelift because Mahabali is expected. There is an active anti-mosquito drive...”

“...and health-conscious people now grow their own vegetables,” Indira joined in. “You are right. After all, Mahabali wants to see his people united and happy. Consumerism has united everybody and nothing makes people as happy as spending money. Yes, even the noxious fumes in the air are a sign of prosperity. Mahabali should be satisfied, but I would still recommend a surgical mask.” A gust of Onam breeze from my direction hit her and she sniffed suspiciously.

“Toxic egg fumes,” I confessed.

“Happy Onam,” she mumbled and beat a hasty retreat.

I began putting things back into my spotless fridge when an egg slipped from my hand. Plop! I’d better start with the floor to get my house sparkling clean for Mahabali...

[khyrubutter@yahoo.com]

(A fortnightly column by the city-based writer, academic and author of the Butterfingers series)

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Printable version | Dec 13, 2019 9:23:25 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/Onam-in-the-time-of-consumerism/article14630752.ece

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