For as long as I have understood the festival of Ganapati, I’ve always wanted to get one home. I don’t know for what duration. And no, I’m not particularly religious. Just the ceremony of it all intrigues me. Every year, I’ll try my luck with my mother, “Can we get one this year? I promise to do all the work.” It’s a futile exercise. I know she’ll never say yes. Occasionally, I’m even relieved that she says no. God alone knows how I’d cope if she actually said yes one day!
I grew up praying to three Gods. Hanuman – because the father convinced me that he is very strong and will scare away all ghosts and demons. Krishna – because it was fairly easy to relate to the antics of this child-God and Ganesh – simply because I saw either a picture or an idol of his in every room at home. He is special. His idol is the first purchase for the dashboard of a new car, his picture adorns a wall in almost every room and I think he looks the cutest of them all in the Hindu pantheon.
I outgrew praying to Hanuman and Krishna. But Mumbai never let me forget Ganapati.
The initial Ganapati celebrations also got overshadowed by the paternal grandfather’s birthday celebrations. The one time in year that the grandmother prepared dal-baati-churma. I never developed a taste for the baati, simply because I was too impatient to wait until it was fried completely. I was content as long as there was churma and dal on my plate, laced with generous amounts of garlic chutney. To be fair, churma et al. was prepared on other occasions as well. But it didn’t quite evoke the same excitement then.
Sated with churma and chutney and papad, we’d go pandal hopping around the neighborhood.
I stopped visiting pandals in the later years. Not because I had stopped praying but because we now lived on an arterial road toward Marve Beach. I’d see all the big idols in the Malad-Goregaon area from the comfort of my window-sill, replete with band, baaja and tamasha. It was a delectable feast for the eyes and the ears. We just had to be careful to avoid the visarjan rush on the last day. We either escaped to town for a film/play or took refuge in a nearby mall. The only day in the year when I hated where home was located.
This year, in a new place, in a new locality, the festival, although just two days away, feels remote. While there is the comfort of having escaped the noise, it is accompanied by a sense of emptiness. Babaji’s birthday celebrations in his absence feel hollow and the eyes already miss the towering elephant God’s last journey on the roads of Mumbai. It will be a subdued ten days.