Last week, shortly after I realized that really, truly the summer was over, the kids had spent a couple of weeks in school, and that I was NOT going back to Mumbai, I looked at the calendar – September 13. Ganesha Chathurti. My favorite Indian festival was happening, and the first Ganpatis would go to the sea the following afternoon. And I was going to miss it. As in really, really miss it.
I knew that it would happen. I’d go home, it would creep up and me, and I’d be sad. So when just a street over from my home in the Lanes of Lalbaug the workshops started setting up despite the monsoon rains, I had to go out to see the Last Ganpatis.
DiploDad begged off and took a nap. Of course I was irritated – how could you MISS THE LAST OPPORTUNITY TO SEE THEM?!? Undeterred, alone, and armed with a camera, I set off for the streets in a rain jacket and with enough money to get a nimboo pani (fresh lime soda in a half-washed cup) from the old guy by the Ganesha Talkies.
Walking down the street from the train station on the corner I spotted my first little elephant gods.
There were artists inside – I saw their shoes outside, but when I snapped a photo, they glowered – the God of Joy and Happiness would definitely NOT approve, but as artists can be very sensitive about their designs, and because there were lots of other workshops, I just smiled, waved, and moved on.
A few meters on, I came to my favorite store and peered inside.
This little corner store, cattycorner to Ganesha Talkies, right on the long walk to the train station, is the shop where the DiploFam purchased our “LifeLong Ganesha” three years earlier. The owner was so nice – we went with our driver, D, and when we realized that the one my DBs fell in love with was already spoken for, the shop owner agreed to expedite a new one for the other family and to sell us the one tagged and on the shelf. When I popped my head into his shop, slightly wet from the rains and leaning in so as to not have to deal with taking my shoes off to enter, he smiled, greeted me with “Hello, Madam!” and pulled back some curtains and aimed a spotlight. I tried to explain to him this was my last visit to Lalbaug. I’m not sure he understood, but he he knew I was sad, and said brightly, “Madam, it tik hai!” – it’ll be alright – before waving an arm around him and motioning to all of the brightly colored elephant gods.
Moving on a bit further, I followed the growing midday crowds down the lanes towards where they were building the pandal for the Lalbaug Raja, one of the most famous Ganpati pandals. I went last year, and it was truly moving. I made DiploDad get up at 5 a.m. to beat the crowds. It was beautiful. I’ve been a lot more active on Facebook than anywhere else over the last few years, so I did capture it here. Lalbaug Ganpati 2017
I took my usual route back from behind the market where the Raja is, visiting the shops that specialized in larger society and apartment complex idols. Most of them were still in the casting stage, or just beginning decorations.
Many societies specify the same pose, the same colors, and the same decorations, year after year. They may alter the backdrop or the decorations. All of them are ordered months in advance.
After wandering through a few tunnels of idols and breathing in plaster of Paris, I found myself back on the road home when this sign caught my eye –
I can’t resist a good eco-friendly artisan. Even though the BMC, the Mumbai municipal corporation, banned thermocool (we call that styrofoam) from pandals this year, a shocking number of them are still made of plaster of Paris instead of mud or clay. The guy had some pretty neat Ganeshas – the color was slightly different, but once they applied paint, no big difference, really.
There’s a certain skill in the painting of a Ganesha. When you watch one getting painted, they are all relaxed until they get to the eyes – and then, nervousness sets in.
I wasn’t the only camera on hand that day – I ran into a local news photographer who was doing a feature story on the artisans coming to Lalbaug for the annual festival. I snapped his photo too.
Next year, I thought to myself, I’ll be in my home and not in temporary quarters and we can celebrate properly. You see, Foreign Service Families take on a little bit of the culture of every place we serve and every place we have loved. My kids realized they were going to miss Ganpati this year and made us promise that we would celebrate it wherever we are, adding it to Chinese New Year and African Unity Day on the DiploFam calendar.
As I was getting ready to leave that final shop, I took one last look around at all the elephant gods that would be finding homes across greater Mumbai in the next few months. And then into the sea. Without me.
Ganpati Bappa Morya.