What I miss the most about Ganpati
He has gone, and has left behind a deep sense of emptiness. As a true blood Mumbaikar of 30 years, I have amalgamated the celebratory culture and spirit of the city. How will I not?
For eleven days, the nondescript residential society where I live transformed into a glittering performance arena. The cars lining both sides of the main road in the society made way for a huge mandap. At the far end, in an enclosure, sat the reigning deity in whose honour, the performances were offered. Each day of the festival was a bonanza waiting to be unwrapped, and you could not miss the heightened anticipation in the Lord’s merciful eyes.
The loudspeaker, every now and then, interrupted Salman Khan’s aaj doob jaun teri aankhon ke ocean mein, to urge residents to come down from their homes to grab the best seats in the house.
On day one, when the curtains went up to Lata Mangeshkar’s signature “Sukh karta, dukh harta”, piety hung heavily in the air. The fleeting solemnity was soon replaced by thumping music that announced the start of the revelry. As always, the itinerary started with performances by children. Cute little cherubs were shoved onto the stage by eager beavers in the guise of parents. Watching the performers, who have barely transitioned from monosyllables, mouth precocious patriotic spiel, was moving – to the mother, who stood in the corner of the stage, dabbing her tears of joy. Fathers had been strictly instructed to wield the camera.
The high point of the festivity was when not one, but a dozen Sri Devis descended on the stage holding up their right arms to mere haathon mein nau nau choodiyan. I recognised the aunty in the flaming red ghagra. Every morning, without fail, she sprinkles me with water as I step out under the plants in her balcony to make my way to the car. That evening had the largest turnout of spectators. Seats were taken early, leaving the rest to take vantage positions from where they stood and watched the greatest show on earth.
Next to arrive on the stage were all the bathroom singers of the society. Each year, this is their day of reckoning. I could now put a face to the mein zindagi ka saath nibha tha chalagaya, that makes me rush through my shower each morning. One after the other, they belted out their favourite numbers. Since the occasion was religious (you forgot?), the audience refrained from cursing out aloud. After all, isn’t tolerance one of Lord Ganesha’s virtues? He leads by example. He hears more than double the decibel we hear, given the size of his ears, and yet, he tolerates.
The 11-day festivity had something for everyone. A case in point is the “thread the needle” contest. The bunch of senior citizens who claims all the benches in the garden in the evenings was enticed by the promise of gifts to participate. They sat on chairs, their eyes peering through spectacles, their fingers barely able to hold the thread and needle in place. The organisers of the contest stood over them cheering vociferously, and then a prize was announced for the one who brought the thread the closest to the needle. Camouflaged sadism. I was beaming because the winner was my mother-in-law.
The Healthy Baby Contest was a private affair that had been given a public platform. All eyes were on the mothers holding the flailing limbs. Wails resounded in the mandap, as the judges (the friendly neighbourhood lawyer, doctor, and teacher) made the delicate decision. It’s always a make or break situation for them – neighbourly courtesies and civility from the next day onwards hinge precariously on the judgements they proclaim that evening. Many friendships have been sacrificed at the altar of the healthy baby contest at Ganpati mandaps.
On the eve of his departure, was the grand finale. An event that the Lord had been waiting for with bated breath – the Fashion show and the accompanying swag. This year, the theme was “Jodi No. 1.” It was for couples to take part. It was for couples above 40 years of age. The toe-tapping Jalwa from Fashion boomed in the background as the couples stepped onto the make-shift ramp. The first man and woman were residents of the flat above mine. They were renowned for not paying their society dues since the last five years. I did not clap for them.
On the evening of the 11th day, the Lord was bid farewell. He was paraded haltingly. The two-minute distance from the mandap to the main gate was covered in 2 hours to the accompaniment of the zingat song and the likes of tera dhyan kidhar hai, yeh tera hero idhar hai. Frenzied dancers surrounded him. It was almost as if the cavalcade was making one last-ditch attempt to impress him with their talent, just in case he had missed the point in the last eleven days.
And then at the final adieu was the promise of more…pudhchya varshi laukar ya!
It’s two days since he has left. The society is steeped in stony silence. We go about our sad lives, grieving the return to mediocrity. The dancers have shed off their talent, and stuffed it up in the attic. The bathroom singers are back.