Albertson, NY, USA
Herricks High School
our king is coming. so embellish your
children and clean the rims around the
home. he will finally arise from the under
world to greet our people once again.
let him grace the rice paddies once
more. eat the food of your ancestors
colorful curries adorned in a banana
leaf and sing their songs to let yourself
be his people just one more year.
mahabali is coming.
before my great grandmother had
ever placed her soles on this land
before smog and floods and before
the backwaters soured came a king.
mahabali. to rule this ground to blow
breath into and to seed in it virtue and
prosperity to feed it his blood so the
plush rice could regenerate and grow.
all the subjects in his kingdom adorned
him and celebrated him. he was loved
by all and in a sense impenetrable.
he was the revered king, loved by
both the smiles of the children and the
dark eyes of the soil beneath him.
it was said that he was the epitome of
justness. as long as he ruled the land
all beings lived as one being. however,
his rule and his greatness would not be received
by all. his fame and goodness would make him
subject to bitter envy. for jealousy from gods,
lord vishnu & the devas, would lead to darkness.
on a day with a beating sun king mahabali
sees a frail boy praying of course his stern
benevolence wills him to ask the boy
what do you desire? the boy asked for
a piece of land that could be covered in
three steps. mahabali agrees, and as the boy
begins to take his first step and he begins to swell.
growing into a giant as he takes one, two,
steps to cover the entire body of kerala. mahabali
realizes this is no regular boy–this is the
work of the gods, this is lord vishnu at play.
seeing that there is no more land free
for the lord’s third step, mahabali offers his head
and vishnu plunges him down into the under
world to live. he makes one feeble request.
he asks to have one day a year to see his people
once again. onam is born, and one day a year,
mahabali comes out from the deep to finally
see his subjects. his arrival brings together entire
factions of kerala, all religions, colors, and creeds.
my grandmother picks out a fresh
set of waxy banana leaves from the
lip of the backwaters where the clay and
sand kiss the water. she bounces in the
kitchen powered by the breeze and the
reminder of our guest. rice is washed,
spices are ground, curry is stirred.
to plate, she decorates the banana leaf
with the curries of beetroot, coconut,
black eyed peas, seasonal melons.
our house is scrubbed. folk dances
performed by strangers and neighbors
leave a tangible magic in the air
that spreads around the community
and we are all preparing, all purging,
all making ourselves ready for the
annual and timely arrival of our
great king mahabali.
onashamsakal (best wishes for the festival of onam)
I love how (the author intertwines) this myth with a personal story as well. Painting this picture of the origins of this cultural festival, so vibrant and rich, makes the poem all the more evocative and poignant. (The author's) command over the narrative is very well done. (The author crafts) the story with such precision, transitioning between the past and the present seamlessly.
Aieshah Ashfer is a senior at Herricks High School. You’ll find her arranging all the images, colors, shapes, ideas, and thoughts in her head into poems, prose, and stories. When she's not writing, she's learning about black holes, hoping to go deep-sea diving again, or taking ambitious trips to thrift stores in New York City.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR