Onams of ‘salt carpet’

One more Onam passed by. As usual the television was filled with stories of nostalgia – celebrities talking about Onam of their childhood and how much it has changed over the years. Stories of plucking flowers and playing on the swing etc. In my childhood, we seldom had a traditional floral carpet for Onam. We did not have any flowering plants in the yard and we could not afford to buy flowers from the Onam market. So what we did instead was buying crystal salt and packets of color powder that came cheap.

The first and probably the best artist of the family was my second brother Varghese who is not in this world anymore. It was him who started putting floral carpets for Onam and cribs for Christmas. We all would wake up early in the morning of Onam day to help mixing the color powder with crystal salt while my brother would be drawing the structure on the yard with a string of thread and chalk. We would occasionally put up a real pookkaLam (floral carpet) with Mosantha flowers which were found aplenty in one of the neighborhoods. Ladies of the family would get busy in the kitchen by the time we finished the pookkaLam. Next thing to do would be eating the boiled banana. After that we would head to the neighboring houses to watch TV. There were not many new movies on TV in those days and there was only one Malayalam channel by Doordarshan, but one of the neighbors would play VHS tapes of Malayalam movies that they brought from the gulf. The ‘celebrations’ would mostly end with sadya at noon, though we did not have more than 4 items for sadya.

The ‘salt carpet’ was also a regular in my school, S N Boys High School in Kanimangalam because most of the students there came from ordinary or poor lower middle class families. The kaLam there was much bigger than what we put in our houses. It filled an entire class room bordered with the wooden benches. One kaLam design I remember is of Hanuman bringing the sanjeevani and it was the largest kaLam from my memories. The salt carpet has a disadvantage though. A salt carpet is easier to put the design together than a floral carpet but it would begin to melt after sometime and the colors would merge with each other, But it was a work of art.

Times have changed and I don’t see the salt carpets anymore. The flower market now thrives in the Onam days and there are ‘flower kits’ which is a mixture of all flowers and it costs much less than what you buy in kilos, so nobody prefers the salt carpet anymore I guess. Crystal salt also seems to be a rare thing these days as people have moved on to powder salt. I wish I had a camera or found someone who had one to take a photo of the salt carpet,  which I would call the poor man’s pookkaLam.