Onam, the annual harvest festival of the people of the southern Indian state of Kerala, was celebrated by expat Keralites all over the world on Saturday. Though subdued, the celebrations this year in Oman were more spirited than 2020 owing to the 10pm-4am restrictions on commercial activities and night movement ban being lifted from August 21.
Onam celebrations were severely impacted in Oman last year due to a lockdown and movement ban owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, the Malayali community in the sultanate sighed in relief following the relaxation in restrictions.
The traditional Onam lunch – Onasadya, typical of the celebrations to mark the festival – usually organised by community clubs in Oman, however, could not be held. This was in view of social distancing norms in accordance with guidelines set by the Supreme Committee tasked with tackling the impact of COVID-19.
Keralite expats, bachelors in particular, thronged restaurants in Muscat that served the traditional meal on banana leaves. Most families prepared the elaborate festive lunch and laid decorative pookalam at the entrance of their homes to welcome the legendary King Mahabali and to usher in good times in the year ahead. Keralite expats were seen dressed in traditional attire in many parts of the city.
P M Jabir, social worker and director of Kerala Pravasi Welfare Board, said, “We are thankful to the Government of Oman and the Supreme Committee for ending the movement restrictions. As it happens, this is just in time for Onam. It has come as an ‘Onam gift’ to the Malayali community in Oman.”
Though the easing of restrictions will allow people to visit relatives for small celebrations at home with their family members, he requested everyone to follow all the necessary health guidelines, including maintaining social distancing and wearing masks to stay safe.
“It is not the right time to organise community lunches or celebrations for Onam as we are still in the midst of a pandemic and we all want the number of cases to come down further. Everyone must follow the guidelines and stay safe at home rather than go out and celebrate. We are glad that things are better this year and we hope that they get even better next year.”
According to Abraham Mathew, member and former convenor of the Malayalam Wing of Indian Social Club, it is “great news that people can move around the city, visit restaurants and have celebrations at home for Onam this year”.
However, he cautioned and urged all to stay safe. “No community celebrations have been planned for the second year in a row as it is not safe to do so in the current scenario. We hope and pray that things get better for everyone in the future. We have to follow the rule of the land so that everyone is safe.”
A management staff of Woodlands, a popular restaurant in Ruwi, informed that it didn’t serve dine-in Onasadya this year owing to the pandemic. “We were not expecting the restrictions to be lifted. Besides, our cooks who prepare the traditional lunch have all gone back to India. Nevertheless, we have a very good turnout today (Saturday) for our regular lunch and are fully booked for dinner, too.”
On past occasions, Woodlands has had a good response to its Onasadya, both dine-in and takeaway meals – upwards for 500 – he disclosed.
Most Keralite expats in the city said they had to tone down their celebrations with friends and visited restaurants only with family members unlike previous years.
“Usually we celebrate with our family in India but this year we have to be content with food parcels from restaurants,” said Shino Thomas, as he collected an Onam lunch parcel from Anantapuri restaurant in Ruwi.
“I am happy that some restaurants are providing lunch parcels for the festival. Last year, even this was not available. Though all celebrations are curtailed, at least we can enjoy a traditional meal with the family,” said Ranjini Rajesh, who ordered an Onasadya takeaway from Anantapuri.
Robin Michael, head chef of Anantapuri, informed that the restaurant is offering only Onasadya parcels this year. “So far, we have sold over 1,000 parcels and closed bookings which started 15 days in advance,” he said on Saturday.
The food parcels have 28 items, including two sweet dishes and a banana leaf on which the meal is had.
With inputs from Syed Fasiuddin
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