Onam of one’s teens, if one goes by mainstream media accounts, conjures up images of lush green fields, swaying palms, children plucking colorful flowers and the all-important athapookalam. But what about the kids in Trivandrum, those who had their teens in late 80’s and early 90’s? Ah! There is the state-sponsored Onam week.
We looked forward to the “lighting arrangements” which lit up the entire road from Water Works to Secretariat (and to East Fort in patches). Every government building vied with each other in being the best lit. Kanakakunnu was indeed the main attraction – lots of cultural events made sure the kids of Trivandrum knew more about the art forms in Kerala than kids anywhere else. While we kids visited our ‘native-place’ in all holidays, the Onam week made sure of the “reverse-train-drain”, where cousins from other places would be in Trivandrum to see the fest, and we young city teens would proudly explain to our wonder-struck kin about the various art forms of Kerala.
There was also the daily report of “Poovalanmaar Pidiyil” in all local dailies, with photos of many dozen dejected young men with circles around their eyes, and two beaming policemen by their sides. (Eventually, even the police got bored of this. So they had a brilliant idea – install 100 or so CCTVs across all venues. It was hugely successful, every crowd “behaved” since one could see policemen closely monitoring a dozen or so TV screens at each venue. Years laters, the actual truth was out – there were only a couple of CC cameras. The rest were just pre-recorded videos being played through borrowed VCRs! Now, that’s innovation).
Traffic was blocked along MG Road on all days from around 5 till night throughout the week. We teenagers would keep our cycles at the nearest (to MG Road) friend’s house. The cycle, of course, occupied a prime spot in every teenager’s life. It was usually gifted by the time one was in 8th. Tution was the purported “official” purpose; we kids saw this as a necessary evil though. The famous “entrance tution masters” had their homes swarmed with 40-50 cycles – though they discouraged this public display fearing “income tax” – and setup secret chambers in their homes to enable hiding the cycles.
And what was in the entrance – a secure career, high-paying job? Of course not, it was for the 5 letters which every teen would die – the RX100. The Yamaha RX100 was guaranteed if you got in to the CET or TKM. Indeed, a dad was not fit enough to be a dad if he couldn’t buy his CET-going son an RX100! Social scientists believed not much girls made it to engineering because they were book-worms and did not have wide-range knowledge which entrance exams demanded. I believe it was because girls did not try hard, as there were no female equivalent of the RX100.
We spend hours roaming in the cycles. Onam was a nice time, since there were no tutions. Shangumugham and Veli were famous jaunts. The Vaidyan Kunnu (now famous as Technopark) was a mini-forest – you could see fox, jackals and lots of creeping reptiles. Riding 30-40 kilometers were not uncommon. (These days, city planners say Trivandrum is not suitable for cyclists, since it has lots of hills – haha!).
Cycle-gangs were usually based on tutions and localities. When girls approached in the opposite direction, most teen cyclists had the strange tendency of reaching out to the cycle’s back carrier to “adjust” his book/bag using both his hands! Onam was also a time for extra-ordinary cycling competitions – speed-racing, slow-cycling, wheeling (who rides the longest on only one wheel), and the bizzare free-hand race. The last one was dangerous, since it involved a speed race with both hands off the handle, whether the road be uphill, downhill or curved. And once in a while, this would be noticed by an overtaking police jeep, and an unlucky one pulled aside. The resulting conversation made sure the kid hated the police for the rest of his teenage years.
Yes, it was indeed fun. Lush green fields and swaying palms are not necessary for a great festival. Sharing friends and spirited jaunts are. Visit your friends, take a ride out together in the open. Let life be a celebration of color and happiness. Like Onam.