‘OK’ is a word that we frequently use today in our daily conversations. For me, it acquired a deeper connotation when I was in third standard. It was the year I had to shift school in September because Achan (father) got transferred from Bangalore to Vizag.
Since I schooled outside Kerala, my annual vacations (April – May) mostly harmonized with Vishu. This meant that I regularly celebrated Vishu in all its pomp and glory with my cousins at our ancestral home in Kannur. However, Onam’s were poles apart. For brother and me, the festivity was limited to the delicious plantain-leaf feast that Amma prepared on the day of Thiruvonam.
That particular year was different. Conspiring forces were in play.
I vividly recall the humid May evening in Kannur before our departure after annual vacation. Sitting beneath the mango tree in our yard, my cousins and I were sumptuously feasting on the delicious fruits we plucked. A distant relative dropped in for chit-chat with my grandfather and uncles. A few conversations later, he got up to leave and I noticed that the visitor used the word ‘OK’ very generously in his departing message with each member of our family.
To me, he affectionately said “Sheri mone (Okay son), poyi varaam (will go and return later), OK.” And I nodded my head awkwardly, with mango juice still dripping down the sides of my mouth and both hands.
After the visitor left, Nakummavan (Naku Uncle) joined me under the mango tree as he sensed a moment to prank me (Of course, I realized this much later). In a grave tone, Nakummavan informed me that important people end their meetings with abbreviations that have deeper meaning attached to it.
“Do you know why he kept saying ‘OK’?” Nakummavan quizzed me.
“No”, I replied.
“Oh! It just means that he will meet us during Onam. ‘OK’ means ‘Onathinu Kanaam’ (See you for Onam). Onam is an important festival for us roughly 5 months from today. You should also come and we can celebrate together.”
I quickly absorbed this valuable information and remember the world around me changing almost instantly.
I started observing other conversations around me – at the railway stations, bus stops, auto rickshaw stands, and at the front doors of houses in my street.
In fact, wherever I went, people bidding farewell mouthed words like “Poyi varaam, OK” or “OK, ethiyittu kathu ayakku (send me a letter on reaching)” or “OK, ethiyittu villikkaam (will call you on reaching)”. Why? I even heard vendors saying ‘OK, sir’ as our train passed through various stations.
Oh! My God. All these people are talking of meeting for Onam! Then Onam must definitely be a big event. I intensely desired to be a part of it.
I too started passionately saying ‘OK’ at every opportunity. And I faithfully prayed that Achan allows me to go to Kannur for Onam.
It is said that if you desire something deep down, it manifests itself. Achan started my admission process in Vizag and I got TC from Bangalore school. More importantly, I had two weeks’ time-off.
That’s how universe conspired to allow me reach Kannur a day before Atham with Vijayammavan (Vijaya Uncle) that year. Running into the warm embrace of my grandparents felt even more thrilling because of the unexpected break from school routine.
My first day started with a crisp code of conduct from Ammamma (grandmother) for the next ten days – wake-up early, brush, have bath and go to the temple before having milk. Then join your cousins.
The days were a period of high-spirited activities for kids. We never entered home before dusk.
In the mornings, we gathered flowers while returning from the temple. Initially we watched Ammamma arranging the Pookkalam and then later we started assisting her as the size of Pookkalam grew bigger with each passing day.
During the day, we played in the courtyard sometimes on the swing and other times swinging the bat in a game of cricket. Some evenings, we went to nearby fair or temple.
One day Onapottan, a folk character, visited us and showered blessings. He donned a kireedom (crown) and his face was painted. He held a bell in one hand and a traditional palm-leaf umbrella in the other hand. Muthachan (grandfather) gave him some money and he went to the next house in our street.
In the late evenings, we sat around Muthachan and massaged his legs while he entertained us with folklores. Those days, I never knew when I slept-off listening to stories but recall waking up next morning fresh for the day’s fun.
Towards Thiruvonam, the residents in our house gradually increased as more family members joined in for their vacations. My parents arrived on the eighth-day (Pooradam) and Amma got busy in the kitchen instantaneously.
On Thiruvonam, we had a grand ela-sadhya. This feast had more items on the plantain leaf than what Amma used to prepare in our Bangalore home.
The next day we had to depart and I was sad because I knew our next trip would be only in April.
I had fully absorbed the theory of ‘OK’ which Nakummavan told me, that while bidding farewell I started saying “poyi varaam, VK” to all. Initially, elders thought I was mispronouncing and corrected me, “Kutta (Son), it’s not VK, the right word is OK”. First I ignored them. And when they persisted, I got upset and cried out – “How can I say OK when I will be meeting you for Vishu? For Onam, you all said OK and now should you not be saying VK?”
That’s when the whole story tumbled out and I realized rather painfully that Nakummavan had pranked me. I was furious, shamed and disappointed. This episode was part of family conversations about me for decades.
In later years, whenever I heard ‘OK’, a big part of me unconsciously travelled to those fond memories of Onam.
And I still continue to get excited when I say “Poyi varaam, OK”…