Ganesh Chaturthi III

So the grande finale of Ganesh Chaturthi was indeed pretty grande. The firecrackers started going off sometime in the afternoon, which made me frantically search for earplugs. I found them, because Ksenia is always fantastically well prepared for this sort of stuff, but then I ended up not actually needing them. Rumor has it that people tend to go crazy with these things – kind of like with the rats during the floods: the boys just throw them into the crowds, having a laugh. But no such thing happened.

Instead, we starting walking towards Juhu, got drenched by a quick rain shower, and assembled with quite a few people on the beach. It was still light out, so we were somewhat early. The main event at this time was that we got constantly mobbed by people begging us to take pictures of them. It is quite strange, but people just love to be photographed; they can’t seem to get enough of it. But that’s great, because one doesn’t usually get a chance to take people pictures all that often, and of course the faces and clothes are always fantastic. So we did that for while, and then it was slowly getting dark, so we moved further along on the road to the main Juhu Beach area.

The crowds by now had noticeably densified and there was a good amount of pushing and shoving, and of course constant drumming, chanting, and lots of laughter. We were lucky to find a troupe that had a sizable big Ganesh and a lot of women. Also, it seemed like the smaller the Ganesh the louder and more ecstatic the crowd in front and behind of it. A lot of the crowds seem to enforce a strict teenage boys only policy, which was a bit scary, especially for K and S, who weren’t in the mood to be the only women among a hundred teenage boys. So our troupe was pretty grown up and solidly serious, which was nice.

A few heavy rain showers later, we were passing the VIP stage. There was bunch of important looking people in either all white Indian dress, or in uniforms, some of them well beyond retirement age and bedtime. I was later told that if they were wearing white, then they are most likely politicians. So these politicians and the uniformed brass were sitting there on their armchairs overseeing the crowds like Napoleon a battlefield. It had an odd feel of Soviet Russia, but I guess it was really just India. In any Western country during this sort of event with large teenage crowds one could hope for an odd plastic cup of beer or maybe a paint or water bomb here and there being thrown at the VIP stage, but there was probably no danger of any such thing happening here. After all, Ganesh Chaturthi is also a dry day, i.e. no alcohol whatsoever is being served or sold anywhere in the country, unless it’s a private club, i.e. some place like the Gymkhana. Imagine 4th of July in the US, or Rosenmontag in Germany, or any day in the UK without drinks? People would call for a general strike, I suspect.

Anyways, we then proceeded towards the water, there was a Pooja, i.e. some prayer, offerings, chanting, etc., a small fire was lit, and a few other things were happening, which I couldn’t quite make out. At some point, I was politely asked to take pictures later, and so eventually the big Ganesh got lifted off his pedestal and off he went, slowly being carried into the muddy waters of Juhu Beach. It was quite the spectacle and a lot of fun to watch.

On the way back home, there were hundreds of trucks fully loaded with worshippers and Ganeshes, and the most elaborate one attracted quite a scene. This Ganesh had its own little elaborate house. Inside was what I suspect was a Hindu priest, and so this truck slowly made its way to the beach with an enormous crowd around it, cameras rolling, people dancing, the whole nine yards. Apparently, some of these Ganeshes are 25 feet high, but this on was the biggest that we had seen, and it was quite impressive. I got a few nice pictures of the whole story, which I will put up on my photo blog over the next few days.

Ganesh Chaturthi II

So we are in the fifth day of Ganesh Chaturthi, and my neighbors have been having a ceremony or other twice a day every day. Our parking lot is the temple for family, friends, and neighbors, there’s is a master of ceremonies, there’s singing, and they have set up big loudspeakers which they use to play what seems to be the same Ganesh Chaturthi CD over and over again at full volume. It is actually quite nice and touching how everybody comes together and seems to have a big blast. The whole extended family part is not something I would particular want for myself, but on the surface it looks as if everybody is having a great time, so who knows, maybe these are all picture book happy families with no dirt whatsoever under the carpet. Strangely, later in the evening, after the ceremonies and after they are having some food, they usually end up huddling around a laptop looking at I don’t know what.

Getting home on Thursday was a royal pain in the arse. It was ok until Juhu, but since it was the first immersion day where thousands of people go to Juhu Beach to immerse their Ganesh. Traffic was crawling for a good one and a half hour to get me home the last 5km from there. The cops were a bit overwhelmed trying to separate the processions from the traffic and to stop drivers from ignoring their improvised directions and traffic lanes. Me included, of course, since I am quite happy to report that I am getting pretty good at driving like an Indian.

I had one rickshaw driver pull up next to me at a red light the other day, slamming his hand onto my car, shouting or yelling about something or other. I guess I must have cut him off or maybe he didn’t like the way I was trying to zig zag my way around those atrocious potholes while I was passing him. I have not yet perfected the art of being on the fastest side of the road at various intersections, but I am getting there, and the fact that this rickshaw driver was not the only one yelling at me for my driving can only mean that I would now qualify perfectly well as a NYC cab driver.

Yesterday we had a little expat party in my apartment. That was all fun and well, even though I ended up checking my Blackberry for messages from Ksenia, as usual these days. My maid had made two big bowls of rice and chicken, which apparently no-one was hungry for. Unfortunately, at some point in the evening there was no water in the house, and it didn’t come back until later today afternoon, when I was way overdue for a shower. We also managed to break my CD player somehow, and when I tried to connect the little boombox that we had brought from NYC, it turned out to be covered in stinking mold from sitting around in a closet somewhere. Besides, as soon as I hooked it up to the electrical outlet the fuse of the extension cord blew, so we were without music. At that point, it was raining cats and dogs again, and our neighbors were still chanting and drumming I think. But who cares?

It apparently was a special day for my neighbors, because this time they actually set up a huge buffet and placed a woman onto a special chair centerstage, and everybody looked particularly dressed up. First I thought there’s going to be a wedding, but then I realized that the woman was very pregnant, so no doubt she was already married. I am guessing it was some kind of special child blessing. So while we are having a party on the terrace with our Muslim furniture, there was lots of singing and chanting for Ganesh Chaturthi on the parking lot, later followed by their usual play of Bingo or some sort of raffle, which seems to always come with the food after the ceremonies.

We ended up placing a delivery order for 20 big bottles of Kingfisher, so everyone was happy (well, apart from that there was no diet coke, no water, and no juice I guess). Not surprisingly, I ended up going to sleep while the party continued, but when I woke up, my apartment was in a surprisingly good shape, thanks to K and P, who will hopefully help me finishing off the remaining ten large bottles of Kingfisher one of these days.

Of course, I had a very lazy day at the coffee shop today. But when I got back home, there was a small procession of teenage boys (for some reason, most of these processions seem to be conducted by teenage boys), who were driving their Ganesh in a big truck, spearheaded by about a hundred of them drumming and dancing like crazy. So when I went to take some pictures, they went really wild and put on an extra show. Before I knew it, they pulled me right into the middle of them, and of course my first idiotic thought was Uh oh, there goes my camera!

They had no interest whatsoever in my camera other than shouting and yelling to take pictures of them while they were dancing around me like, well, I guess like Indian teenage boys at Ganesh Chaturthi. The fun only lasted for about 15 seconds, when some important looking older guy said thanks, shook my hand, and escorted me out of the crowd back to the sidelines, i.e. basically into the traffic. I almost got hit by the car, took some pictures of the back of the truck, and then went home.

The big final day, when supposedly thousands of Ganeshes get immersed into the water is either next Saturday or next Sunday; there’s different reports about that. I bet it will be one crazy scary event, but I am determined to go right into the middle of it, wherever that is.

Ganesh Chaturthi I

Today is the start of the annual Ganapati festival, Ganesh Chaturthi, the second biggest festival in India and maybe the biggest in Mumbai. The little parking lot behind my building was turned into a white, yellow and blue tent over the last few days, and sometime last night I was waken up by crowds of neighbors, bringing in a big Ganesh, the elephant-headed deity, singing, dancing, and playing the drums at 3am or so. This festival will last for the next 10 days, and depending on I don’t know what, the Ganeshes will be immersed into the ocean or various lakes after a day and a half, five days, seven days, or, for the grande finale, after ten days.

I can actually see our Ganesh from my bedroom window. Later this morning, I smelled a thick sweet incense, and neighbors, friends and families gathered for a prayer with an often repeating mantra of Ganapati Bappa Morya (I don’t know yet how that translates). At some point, I went out of my apartment and sat down on one of the assembled chairs in the back, trying hard to be invisible. I really wanted to take some pictures, but I thought it might be better if people get used to me being there first.

At first, nobody seemed to want to even notice me, and it was a bit awkward, but then the guy who a few weeks ago very importantly pointed out that one of the parking spots is reserved for the doctor, asked me to have some food. Another guy asked me why I don’t join them for some prayer, and after the ceremony was over, a young woman smilingly passed me some sweets and fruits and just said it’s God’s blessing. So everybody turned out to be quite welcoming, but I still didn’t take any pictures – maybe next time I will ask someone if anybody would mind. Apparently, everyone will assemble here every morning and evening for the next ten days, and I can’t wait to see what will happen.