Thiruvananthapuram: As Onam is around the corner in all its pomp and fanfare in every nook and cranny in Kerala, it is also an occasion for scores of elderly women and men in old age homes to look back at the good old days they spent with their near and dear ones.
As geriatric care centres across the state get ready to celebrate the festival, culminating with 'Thiruvonam' on August 29, elderly inmates refresh memories of bygone years.
Many still vividly recall the great joy of going around coconut gardens and rice fields with other children to pluck flowers on all the 10 days leading upto the Thirvonam to make the colourful 'pookkalam' (floral carpets).
There is a tinge of sadness to their memories as many have been living in these homes for the last several years. But a silver lining is charity homes also do their best to make their inmates happy on Onam day, giving them new clothes and cooking delicious 'onasadya', the multi-course lunch.
While funds are not a problem for centres where elders from affluent backgrounds live, smaller institutions have to raise donations to organise celebrations.Often NGOs, political parties and residents' associations come to their help. The state Government also chips in with special aid for the occasion.
"Nobody can plan Onam celebrations in advance in institutions like ours. It will depend on donations of others as we do not have any other income," Ajith Kumar, administrative officer of Cheshire Home here, told PTI.
Cheshire Home is home to about 35 aged and physically challenged people. "Some people donate cash and others will give rice and provisions. There are those who provide ready-to-serve feast. The residents association in our area organised some cultural programmes for our inmates in previous years," he said.
Kumar said relatives of inmates rarely take home their parents during festivals, though it is custom in Kerala for all family members to come home during the Onam days, even from abroad where many eke out a living.
Though Onam has a Hindu myth behind it, the festival is celebrated by all Keralites, cutting across class, caste and religious barriers in tune with its central theme of "equality, social justice and universality."
Legend has it that Kerala was once ruled by Mahabali, the Asura (demon) king, where his subjects lived in Utopia and everyone was equal and deception and theft were unheard of.
Envious of his popularity, the Devas (Gods) managed to get Mahabali pushed down to the netherworld by prevailing upon Lord Vishnu.
But he was allowed to return to Kerala on Thiruonam day of the month of 'Chingam' of the Malayalam calendar every year.
Houses would be decorated with floral carpets and feasts would be prepared on 'Thiruonam' to mark the occasion. New dresses are also distributed among family members.
Binu Kumar, an official of Sree Chitra Poor Home said the inmates are happy to celebrate Onam with camaraderie, instead of going home during the festival days.
"We used to organise many cultural programmes like 'thiruvathirakkali' and competitions such as musical chairs, lemon and spoon to entertain inmates," he said.
This year, a philanthropist, who likes to keep a low profile, has sponsored the feast and new clothes for the inmates, he said.
However, he admitted there were some people nostalgic about days gone by and desperately want to go home during festivals like Onam and spend time with family members.
"It is true that some inmates are very nostalgic about families. But since there is a family atmosphere at home and there are a number of inmates of the same age, it does not create any problems."
"We allow inmates to go home only after giving them a
feast and new dress," he added.