Friday, September 05, 2008

Ganesha says ...

Its my 8th year in Mumbai, 8 years of Ganesh Chaturthi. The biggest festival for the Marathis but its surprisingly easy for non-mumbaikars to miss except of course for the visarjan on the 10th day ... when the all roads to the beaches / lakes are clogged with ganpati processions.

My first brush with Ganpati was in Sept 2000 ... Those days I used to live in an apartment complex on Juhu Versova link road and I remember walking down to the Juhu beach to witness what till then I'd only seen as scenes in Bollywood movies. The whole beach was jampacked with people jostling to catch a glimpse of the ganpati idols and screaming "Ganpati bappa moriya". We were crushed in the crowd and I remember feeling terribly claustrophobic even though we were on a beach. I was with a couple of friends and one of them suddenly realised that he'd been pickpocketed !!! Since then I've always kept a safe distance from Juhu beach during the Ganesh Chaturthi period ( the 10th day is the biggest but there are visarjans every other day ).

Other than the visarjan bit the whole festival is very subdued and celebrated mostly as a family affair in individual homes and housing societies ... ( like the picture here from a small ganpati pandal within a housing society ). Even the few sarvajanik or public ganpati celebrations are low-key affairs ( the pandals are more like makeshift tents with little decoration and poor lighting ). The few notable exceptions are the celebrations @ Lalbaug, Wadala, Matunga and a few others which are truly executed on a grand scale.

This is of course in contrast with and relative to the Kolkata Durga Pujas ... the 10 day carnival when the whole of Kolkata takes a break and gets fixated with pujo, pandal hopping, fun and frolic. Its a public celebration which takes place on the streets and parks of Kolkata ... people go home only to sleep and get recharged for the next days festivities !!! The sheer magnitude and the complete participation of an entire city cutting across communities is unparalleled at least in India ... If you are in Kolkata you are automatically sucked into the spirit of the occasion. I'd expected something similar with Ganpati in Mumbai ... but have been disappointed.

Mumbai of course has other priorities ... its a city always on the move, a city which does not sleep, the engine which drives India's economy ... taking a break for some serious celebration would be a trivial pursuit the city cannot and does not want to indulge in !!!

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