The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Sep 16, 2011


It was Onam the other day. I only noticed because fellow Malayalis were busy congratulating each other. The wife was gallivanting around Budapest and the boy and I didn't feel like a sadhya. Not that the boy knew anything about sadhyas. He is a simple soul. Give him a chapati and dal followed by a gulab jamun and he is happier than Larry.

Still, I ought to do my part as a Malayali parent, I thought. I'm not much by way of religiousness, but a festival is a festival, innit? And there are legends. Everybody likes legends. I called the boy over.

"Today is Onam," I said.

"Okay," he said. "Can I go and play now?"

"Let me tell you about Onam," I said.

He sighed.

"It is the biggest festival in Kerala," I said.

He didn't say anything.

"There was a king many many years ago," I said. "He was a good king and everybody loved him."

"Were there dinosaurs?" said the boy.

"No," I said. "When dinosaurs roamed the earth, there were no people."

"Were the people all with Krishna?" said the boy.

"Yes, maybe," I said. "Now, the name of the king was Mahabali."

"Was I with Krishna when you and Amma got married?" said the boy.

"Yes, yes," I said. "Mahabali took care of his people. He was so good that the gods got worried."

"Why?" said the boy.

"Well," I said, "I guess the gods thought the people would forget them if they were so happy with their king."

He looked puzzled but kept mum.

"What was the king's name?" I said.

The boy mumbled something.

"Mahabali," I said.

"Muhawbelly," he said, deuced Englishman that he is.

"So Vishnu was born as a little man," I continued. "He came to Mahabali's court. Mahabali saw him and said, 'Ask me for a boon.'"

"Was he a carnivore?" said the boy.

"Eh?" I said, momentarily confused. "No, not 'bone'. 'Boon'. A boon is a wish."

"Okay," said the boy.

"Mahabali said, 'Do you want riches? Gold? Food? Whatever you want, it's yours.'" I continued. "But the little man said, 'I only want as much land as I can cover in three footsteps.'"

We thought about this for a while. The boy took three steps on the carpet.

"That's not a lot," he said. "Why didn't he ask for a toy or something like that?"

I shrugged.

"Mahabali agreed," I said. "And suddenly the little man grew enormous. E n o r m o u s. With one step, he covered the earth. With his next step, he covered the skies."

The boy's eyes first grew round and then narrow. Before he could speak, I continued, "'Where shall I place my foot for the third step?' asked the giant. Mahabali realised then that God Himself was before him. He bowed his head and asked Vishnu to place his foot on it. Vishnu did so and pushed him deep into the underground."

"Did he die?" said the boy.

"Nobody knows," I said. "But Vishnu was so pleased with Mahabali's generosity that he granted the king a boon as well. Every year he could come out of the underworld for a day, and his people would see him and be happy. And his land, Kerala, would be lovelier than heaven. And that day is Onam, and people every year await their king."

We sat and looked at each other. The boy didn't look very impressed.

"Is the story finished?" said the boy.

"Yes," I said.

"Is the king here?" said the boy.

"No," I said. "He is in Kerala."

"Did anyone see him?" said the boy.

"I'm sure someone said they did," I said.

"If the king was so good, why did Vishnu kill him?" said the boy.

I was afraid this would happen. Logic is not best served in legends.

"Er," I said. "Mahabali was a good king, but he was a demon, so the gods didn't like him much."

"But if he was good, how can he be a demon?" said the boy.

"I think you should ask Amma that when she comes back," I said.

[For anyone curious about Onam, Maddy's got a nice write-up.]


Anonymous said...

Typical! Dump the dirty work on the wife.

However, read this out aloud to the husband who said you were a clever man. At least we agree on that. :P

Space Bar said...

:D You should feed him sadhya once and report the conversation!

Fëanor said...

Anon: cleverness didn't save me from the savaging I received from the wife when she got back.

SB: it's such a chore to get the boy to eat anything. A sadhya would age me severely.

Guru said...

lovely - looking forward to more of such pieces with the boy

amar said...

nice. I had a hard time coming to grips with the killing of vali by ram & lakshman from behind a tree.

Post a Comment