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Mahabali's silicon kingdom
Kochi suburb Thrikkakkara which houses the buzzing IT hub is, in Onam myth, precisely the place where Mahabali was outwitted by Vishnu and sent off to netherworld. The silicon enclave, now home to many non-Malayalees and foreigners, celebrates Onam with great enthusiasm.
Sterian chairman Stewart Rendall is reading up all about the cream and gold Kerala mundu for the last few days. This Scotlandborn, Australia-settled IT magnate hopes that wrapping the four yards around his waist would be easier than managing a kilt.
"As a Scotsman by birth, I have worn the kilt on several occasions - the last being our son's wedding. And the little I know about your mundu gives me the confidence that it won't be that difficult to wear one this Onam, " says Rendall.
But what Rendall won't realise till the point he reaches the Sterian campus, near Thrikkakkara, is the fact that he is celebrating Onam at a place that has a legendary connect with the Onam myth. Legend has it that it was at Thrikkakkara - now the IT gateway of Kerala - that Vishnu in his avatar as Vamana bore down on emperor Mahabali (who invited the wrathful jealousy of the gods by making Utopia a reality) and banished him to the Netherworld.
It is believed that the emperor returns to Kerala every Onam to visit his people. This still is one of Kerala's favourite bedtime stories that transfer rich visuals of a pot-bellied, bedecked emperor with a dazzling smile and handlebar moustache to new generations. The king, today, is also the best salesman of this spend-happy state selling everything from TV to textiles. In the market place, his arrival declares the dawn of discount sales as Kerala embraces a splurge-more philosophy.
The expected sales turnover this Onam is more than Rs 2, 000 crore. Every house buys something to underline the adage kaanam vittum Onam unnanam (Sell even the smallest utensil, but do celebrate Onam). The milling crowds at Thrikkakkara temple include people from all communities. "We even had special arrangement to offer namaz and break the Ramzan fast. The temple organised an iftar also, " says Pramodkumar T C, secretary of the Thrikkakkara Temple Advisory Board. "Here we worship the idol of Vamanamoorthy, the viswaroopa of Lord Vishnu just before he stamped Mahabali down, " points out Niyas P K, a member of the board. "For us, Onam is all about religious harmony. "
A few kilometres away, on the mosaic-floors of TCS at Inforpark, this spirit of harmony finds expression in many pookalams laid as part of a floral carpet competition. "The theme this year was harmony. Techies attempted a variety of possibilities ranging from UN themes to musical harmony to communal harmony, " says Reji K Thomas, assistant manager (administration), Infopark, even as hundreds of techies fluttered around in Kerala attire.
"It is the non-Keralites who enjoy the celebration most, " says Mohan Kannan, founder & CEO of Mint business solutions. "They are not aware of the historic import of Thrikkakkara where our offices are located. But it is on this campus that Onam unfurls in full magnificence with hundreds of people from very different socio-cultural backgrounds jointly celebrating it. ".
"In fact, " says Jugul Thachery, CEO of ChoYoWo Games, "the internet has helped create a virtual Maveli world where all are equal as we say in the Onam song: Manusharellarum onnu pole. " Thachery has uploaded several games on social sites to celebrate Onam. His online pookalam is a big hit with many techies laying one on their desktop every morning.
"Thrikkakkara and Kakkanad, the silicon cities of Kerala, have undoubtedly played a crucial role. The IT projects threw open many job opportunities, " says Asif Basheer, senior vice-president of EXL. "I firmly believe that internet is the best route to Mavelidom this era. IT has certainly brought so many mundu-clad Europeans to Infopark to join us in our Onam celebrations. "
For Scotsman Rendall, emperor Mahabali is an emoticon that clicks open a million bytes about a bygone era and harvest festival. "In the UK, we celebrated the 'harvest festival' as an important date in the calendar, " he says.
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