Blooms of nostalgia

Vishukkani arranged at Meenakshy Suryanarayanan's house in Vancouver, Canada. Photo: Special Arrangement   | Photo Credit: Meenakshy Suryanarayanan

It is that time of the year when Malayalis all over the world usher in spring in Kerala by celebrating the festival of Vishu. No matter where they are or what the weather is like in their place of residence, the celebrations of the Malayali Diaspora try to retain the colour and flavour of celebrations in Kerala.

‘Vishukkani’, which involves ‘viewing’ of articles such as gold, rice, cash, flowers and fruits that are arranged in brass platters or an uruli, is religiously followed in many of the households.

Of course, innovations are many, starting with the search for substitutes for golden Indian Laburnum (kani konna) and vegetables and fruits without which no Vishu celebration would be complete.

If Meenakshy Suryanarayanan, a resident of Vancouver, Canada, uses yellow marigold in place of Laburnum, Deepa Nair collects all the flowers in her garden to prepare the kani in her house in Melbourne, while Anitha Nayar makes do with a variety of Laburnum for her kani in Kent in the United Kingdom.

“Every year we do our best to celebrate Vishu just like in India. For the Vishukkani, we get all the fruits that we can find, especially mango and orange. It is hard to find vellarikka (yellow cucumber) and jackfruit. So we go for fruits like strawberry, kiwi, grapes and apple,” says Meenakshy.

On the other hand, Meera Gokulnath writes from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania that since the climate is almost similar to that in Kerala, she is able to get many of the fruits and vegetables from the market itself. “Preparing the sadya too for the afternoon is not a problem. Whether it is in Blantyre, Malawi, or Dar es Salaam, we celebrate Malayali festivals with friends. We even manage to get banana leaves. We send one of the drivers or maids to cut the banana leaves from a Malayali house and have a sumptuous meal, usually on the first weekend after Vishu. However, getting the kani konna is not easy. Some of us have tried growing it in Tanzania but did not quite succeed. So we make do with any yellow flower.”

Apparently there are students in the United States who put up screen shots of the golden flower to usher in a festive feel. Maya Akhil, a resident of Seattle, says her husband used to do that when he was a student .

She adds: “For me, Vishu brings back fond memories of summer vacations, family gatherings, Vishukkani and kai neetam.”

Agreeing with her, Anitha says they try and ensure that their Vishu celebrations are as traditional as possible. But getting the kind of fruits and vegetables that are customarily used for Vishukkani becomes a problem in the U.K. “The right kind of vellarikka (cucumber) is a problem as it is not always available in shops near our place in Kent. Then I use a vegetable called ‘butternut squash’ as replacement, more for its shape; it’s otherwise similar to a pumpkin in taste.”

All of them arrange the Kani the previous night and make it a point to follow the custom of ‘seeing’ it first thing in the morning. “I wake up first and ‘see’ the Kani and light the lamp and then I get each family member, eyes closed shut, near the Kani, and tell them to open their eyes and look at the Kani. The eldest member of the household then hands over kaineettam (Canadian dollars) to every one,” says Meenakshy.

As there is no holiday for Vishu, it is usually a rush to get ready to go to work or school/college. All of them say that making a sadya on the day of Vishu may not be always possible. But they try and make do with a payasam. The festivities spill over to the weekend when friends or Malayali associations organise sadyas and Vishu celebrations or there is pot luck. Anitha says that in some places like Birmingham, a grand feast is held at the temple to celebrate Vishu, again at the weekend.

The kaineetam, when elders give money to those younger to them, depends on the country in which they are celebrating the festival. One Vishu that Anitha holds close to her heart was when the late poet ONV Kurup came visiting his daughter in the U.K. Anitha recalls how the poet had brought crisp hundred rupee notes to give as kaineetam.

Deepa spends the evening of Vishu with her parents. “In Melbourne, Vishu is celebrated by Malayali associations. There is a ticketed programme. Malayalam songs are sung, classical Indian dances and cinematic dances are also presented. After the programme, the elders give a token Kanni to all children who are present. It is usually an Australian $1 coin. The celebrations come to a close with a vegetarian sadya.”

Maya adds that the grand vishu sadya (a pot luck one) includes all the sadya items from all across Kerala. “For example, I am from central Travancore where we usually don’t make erisseri and olan for sadya. But they are mandatory for people from the northern parts of the state. We give kaineettam to all the children. We call our parents and close relatives on the day of Vishu. Unfortunately, here we can’t celebrate Vishu with fireworks as there are restrictions.”

Meera avers that it is great fun with the Malayali association pitching in with cultural programmes and grand sadyas.

Maya says: “Although nothing can match the way Vishu is celebrated in Kerala, my family and our friends try our best to celebrate it the traditional way in Seattle. Festivals like Vishu and Onam are our own festivals and by celebrating it we are passing a living legacy to our future generations.”

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 7:29:09 AM |

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