April is the cruellest month…’, says T.S.Eliot, but when we were children April was the merriest of the months for us !
In Kerala schools usually close on the 31st of March and the two month-long Summer vacation was a time to rejoice! Holidays at Anakkara had a special charm. Each day was filled with fun, new adventures and surprises. There was no room for a dull moment in our lives back then. A time when TV or smartphones were unheard of family get togethers and meeting cousins, spending time together, learning and sharing, endless story telling sessions etc filled our days and young minds with excitement and joy. Vishu, the new year of Kerala (the start of the zodiac new year) generally falls on the 14th of April. Vishu is a time for sparklers and crackers, it’s a time of Vishukkaineettam or the gift money from the elders, it’s the season of ripe mangoes, jamuns and jackfruits. Moreover these were all part of our fun-filled two month holiday celebrations.
My amma’s Vishukkani
A basic, simple Kani that I prepared this year with the limited items available in Cambodia
It is believed that a good beginning on the first day of the year brings grace and luck to the rest of the year. The Kani or the auspicious sight is the first image one should have on the early morning of the new year day. This glorious sight should fill your eyes and heart. ‘Kani’ would be arranged and kept ready the previous night by the elders. Dazzling is the best suited word for Kani!
In front of Lord Guruvayurappa’s idol, a beautifully arranged golden coloured brass uruli (a flat vessel) would be kept. The uruli is filled with everything that signifies prosperity and light. It is filled with rice grains on which two half-split coconut shells with lighted wicks are kept. A fan shaped pleated piece of cloth with golden border is inserted inside a small polished kindi (a spouted brass vessel). A valkannadi (a brass mirror with a handle) has its sacred place in the uruli, a piece of jewellery, some coins and so on are the other auspicious items in the uruli. The kani is laden with golden-yellow melon, yellow juicy mangoes, buttery yellow bananas, shiny yellow jackfruit lobes and bright yellow konna flowers. The uruli represents the universe filled with Nature’s bounty. Vishukkani is symbolic of a year long bounty and prosperity. Kanikkonna flowers (flowers of Indian Laburnum or Golden Showers) are an integral part of this vishukkani. On the new year’s eve collecting konnappoo is a major task. The elders in the family prepare the kani after everyone goes to sleep. At the break of dawn we are taken to the pooja room to see the Vishukani, a sight which brings blessings and abundance through out the year. In our household, on the new year’s dawn our parents used to lead the half asleep siblings to the beautifully adorned pooja, covering our eyes with their palms all the way. The moment the eyes are opened the dazzling view takes one’s breath away! The splendour of the Vishukkani should remain in our hearts and in our thoughts through out the year; it should enrich us materially and spiritually.
The gourds swell and plump, and the fruits ripe to welcome Vishu!
Bountiful vegetable patches at our Anakkara
Jackfruits, melons, pumpkins, gourds all grow abundantly back home in the peak of Summer
Receiving the gift money along with a few grains of rice and konnappoo from the elders follows next… The Young accept kaineettam with great reverence a gesture that is symbolic of the flow of wealth and blessings from the old generation to the new. Later we would proceed to light the firecrackers and sparklers. Meanwhile the golden uruli would be carried around the house for Mother Nature to have her kani, the cattle should have their kani as well. The day ends in a happy note after a sumptuous feast for lunch. Whoever visits during the season would give us, children, the gift money or kaineettam…probably the only form of pocket money then! Those were the days when 50 paise coins and one rupee coins had great value and respect! When cousins meet we used to brag about the amount of kaineettam we ‘earned’!
Crackers and sparklers! Memories of a Vishu at Anakkara
All these are part of an average Malayali’s nostalgic memories (One who was fortunate to enjoy a childhood before the 90s), happy memories of a childhood that play a role in moulding you, making you into what you are. Golden memories of old days! They have a Midas touch!
The golden showers in our Bassac Garden
April makes Phnom Penh a hot oven. The sky loses her lustre, sun splashes his hot, molten gold all over and the living beings writhe under his wrath, but Phnom Penh turns into a yellow sea during the two months of March-April. Rows of Golden Shower trees on the street burst in to lovely golden blooms. They compete with the bright yellow of the sun.
Khmer new year too falls around the same time. It is a four day to one week celebration. Cambodians also welcome the new year with offerings placed on an altar. The offerings include a statue of Buddha, incense sticks, fruits jasmine flowers, lotus flowers, sesame oil and many other goodies.
Nature waves her Midas wand!
Every bough bends with the heavy drops of gold!
My heart skips a beat each time I see the golden showers in full bloom. What a treat for the eyes!! The trees that shed their leaves in March, suddenly open their jewellery chest to adorn themselves with their dazzling gold jewellery.. The splendid sight fills your eyes, heart and your whole being. This bright and dazzling sight makes the dull lethargic April days so bright! The streets of the compound Bassac, where we live, is lined with the Laburnum trees. Nature with her Midas touch turns all the leafless trees into golden beauties decked up in gold in no time.
THERE’S NO ALCHEMIST LIKE NATURE, you bet!!!