Monday, August 24, 2009

The Elephant God and Me

I have not spent my entire life, or even my entire childhood in a single city. While it may be argued that having a parent(s) in a transferrable job gives you immense exposure on account of constant travel and adapting to new environments at short intervals, on the flip-side, it does give you a bit of a confused identity when it comes to identifying roots. The question ‘where are you from’ used to rankle me as a kid. I wasn’t sure. I was born in one city, had lived in 3 different cities in the first 4 years of my life, and in another one till I was 8. I barely knew the city I was born in and where my parents were born, so I was very confused as to why I should identify with the place I ethnically belonged to. But I couldn’t really identify particularly with any other city. That’s till I came to Bombay.

We moved to Bombay in May, 1996 (wow, it feels strange to quote dates from 13 years ago and actually recall the events that transpired then), and were here till April 2005. 9 years is the longest I have stayed in a single place, and therefore, I think it most legitimate to say I am from Bombay when I am asked.

For as long as I can think back, I have attached a great deal of sentiment with Ganesh Chaturthi. Ganesh Chaturthi for me has been a time for seeing Bombayites (Mumbaikers now, I suppose) who have lived in the same area, locality, colony or whatever, and who have otherwise been everything short of oblivious to each others’ existence, coming together to celebrate the chubby God. I suppose it is fitting that the only time the people of Bombay have to spare even for God is when that God gives a guarantee of wealth and prosperity. But then, yeh dhandhe ka shehar hai, this particular sentiment is what makes Bombay what it is, take it or leave it. At a third person, indifferent level, the festival interests me for the sheer unanimity with which Bombay rises up to contribute and rejoice during Ganesh Chaturthi. People seem happy, they dance, they frolick, they let go, even if it is for just a day, 5 days or even 11. But those are an outsider’s reasons for having an interest in the festival.

Like for most other people, the powers of association operate very strongly when it comes to childhood memories. The strangest things are intertwined with each other. Bombay is associated with Ganesh Chaturthi, which in turn is associated with my birthday. This is simply because my birthday usually follows very soon after Ganesh Chaturthi every year, in the month of September. As someone who has lived with, and in fact identifies with this particular city above all others, this festival retains a special place in my heart, and always will, probably because I have always thought Lord Ganesh and I shared this cool open-secret, since the dates (of my birthday and the Chaturthi) were so close apart. I have, in a sense, grown up with this festival. The colony I lived in from when I was 8 had large-scale celebrations. So in my younger years, and those were the good old days when we would get several days off from school for Ganesh Chaturthi, I remember singing and dancing at the festival. Believe me when I tell you that those performances were almost the focal point of the entire year for us; many weeks of practice would go into even a three-minute song sequence, there would be politicking and bitchiness, or whatever variations of the same were possible for a bunch of 8-year olds. We used to have an Arti every day, morning and evening, and our mothers would dress us all up in pretty clothes, powder our faces and send us off to attend these. And we in turn, would strut around proudly, showing off these fineries, and, as is common for all kids that age, become agents for older didis and bhaiyas who wanted to send flirtatious messages across each other, across the breadth of the Pandal.

With age, as often does, came wisdom, or at least, a kick-in of hormones. So the games we were mere pawns in till the age of twelve, acquired new players in the form of near- or newly-turned- teenagers, who had a whole new agenda behind the dressing up and powdered faces. The nakhras began, the strange movements our eyes and eyelids are capable of when triggered by a desire to attract the attention of the opposite sex (I’m not sure we were acquainted with homosexuality then, hence this one-sided usage), the acute shyness and tongue-tiedness when we actually succeeded, and (because life does come full-circle) the employing of younger kids as love-pigeons. Sometime around the time we turned 15, we also became bolder. We took the direct approach route, danced with the previously-only-looked-at parties during the Visarjan, doing the Arti ourselves, decorating the Ganpati without help from adults, as also responsibly finishing off prep for the oncoming term exams before the Puja, so that we could give it our full attention and energies. Unfortunately, the dance performances, and all the other things that gave us much joy earlier were outgrown by this age. We watched the kids perform now, with (usually) put-on delight on our faces and verbal appreciation on our lips, all the while thinking what a bore the whole thing was (the interesting part, of course being, that we weren’t really bored, we were just pretending to be bored, as also pretending on top of that to be interested because the whole thing was just cool). Of course, the dressing up also stopped; we were way too cool to do that now! When I was 16, we moved out of that colony. After that, I became more of a visitor to my erstwhile place of residence and puja-celebration, and like the other big kids, watched from a distance, minimizing participation and just ‘hanging out’ at the Pandal. We left Bombay when I was 18.

I have a very soft spot for Lord Ganesh. I think he is the most adorable of all gods, so fat and cute. Apart from being an icon of prosperity and goodwill, I just think He has stood by me while I have grown up, and is very simply just a part of me.

We have moved back to Bombay now. Yesterday was Ganesh Chaturthi, which marks the beginning of the puja. The murthis were set up in the Pandals yesterday. This year, Chaturthi is unusually early, as per the firang calendar. It was 20 days before my birthday. I went to see some pujas in the area I live in last night. The Pandals seemed to lack the glamour they had earlier. The murthis were still fat and cute, and the expression on Lord Ganesha’s face had the calming effect it always has. But the whole experience wasn’t as enthralling as it used to be for me. I didn’t dress up before going to see the murthi. I did not sing or dance, either as part of a performance or when the murthi was being brought in, and I doubt I will when the visarjan happens. I did not even hang out with friends, or look at anyone from the corner of my eye and think of ways and means to attract his attention. I felt oddly empty as I stood before the statue and prayed for health, wealth and prosperity. I suppose this is what growing up does to you.

And yet, I did notice the young people sitting in opposite corners, looking at each other slyly. And the kids playing-and-stopping and playing-and-stopping a music player while they practiced for a dance performance for today or tomorrow. And some zealous teenagers decorating the Arti-thaali and doing a rangoli on the floor. And I couldn’t help but think about the last 14 or so years and a much younger me, and smile. I suppose that’s the kind of bond people are asking about when they ask you where you are from.


Anonymous said...

As usual you captured the sentiments beautifully...
Btw y'd u change your blog?

Bhavya said...

Thanks :)
Someone told me to change the name, and gave me a very disgusting connotation of my earlier one. And when I changed the name, I thought I'd alter the look a bit also :)

Anonymous said...

yeah i can imagine (unfortunately)what that disgusting connotation is... anyway the new version looks nice

Bhavya said...

Thanks :) Why do people comment anonymously when they're saying nice things?