(I live in a quiet neighbourhood. At least it’s quiet 355 days of the year. But during the days of the Ganesh festival, evenings and nights are cacophonous. There is a visarjan pond one lane away, where all of Vashi seems to converge to immerse their idols. I’m sound-sensitive, and find it difficult to even think straight when there’s a racket going on, so it means ten days of headaches for me. But it's also always a great time for people-watching, with the masses being present in no uncertain terms.)
This evening, gazing at the silent moon rise through the mango tree branches actually drowned out the visarjan drum-synth racket.
Speaking of drum-synth racket, was out watching the processions, and I see that there’s not a single ‘traditional’ drum there. The only traditional element: hand-cymbals. Otherwise just kettle drums, big bass drums, and over that pounding rhythm, the synthesisers.
My lane is where the music has to stop, for some reason. So what we get is the drummers giving it their all, really pounding the drums.
Two lanes away, the two kirana guys are open way past their usual time. There’s a brisk trade in water and soft drinks. The Maharashtrian chap who runs the local hole-in-the-wall restaurant has an extra counter selling vada-pav & bhajias; Rs 15 per bhajia-pav. The Sikh whose tandoori and kabab joint is usually open late (lots of drinkers pop by for oily protein) isn't selling today. Instead he has set up a counter to give away free tea. He, his family & staff are brewing it up in huge vessels, filling plastic cups, handing them to passing processionists. The proffered cups are taken without as much as a thank you and, chai drunk, discarded on the road, though the Sikh family has put out open cartons as dustbins. The wee commercial compound next door (garages & stuff) has a counter giving away water which is also grabbed by those passing by without thanks. Some gargle & spit first. The road is a wet mess.
Three political parties have set up elevated platforms; party dignitaries and family members sit there. Every time a big idol passes, one of the worthies takes to the microphone & greets them, loudly. Between idols, their kids shriek into the mic instead. The Congress Bhavan is next to the visarjan pond: their platform occupies prime position. The Shiv Sena is at the top of the road, the beginning of the final straight stretch. Between them sits the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, in front of a hospital. Their loudspeakers are tied to a lamppost, under and over a sign that says, "Hospital: Silent Zone."
Older neighbours, gentle middle-class folk from many communities, have brought out chairs and are chatting, watching the processions. This spot is where the band-boys are paid off, where they break into absolute frenzy to ensure they get tipped well, I guess. A young(ish) woman is standing next to the group currently thundering away on its drums. Younger family members are grooving to the beat. The young(ish) woman is wearing skin-tight jeans & blouse, high heels. And, incongrously, a Gandhi topi over her poker-straight hair. Her figure is.. Kardashianesque. The elderly gentlemen sneak quick looks. The elderly ladies murmur to each other, but not disapprovingly. A little girl comes running up to the young(ish) woman, excited, pigtails bouncing, and is borne aloft. Everyone goes Awwww. The young(ish) woman & her little girl walk away, towards the pond, accompanying their idol. I follow. To see the immersion, you understand.
Stray observation amidst many stray observations, Every singke one of the idols I saw this evening had its skin painted some shade of pink. And that's a skin tone I've seen in Indians only in Kashmiris and people from Garwahl.
The pond is just off the road, accessed by a narrow lane, just wide enough for a lorry. Two landing areas have been prepared, at opposite ends. A makeshift pier, rafts made from sealed plastic drums with a platform tied on top: four of them, two large, two small. Young men, dripping wet, man the rafts. The big ones are attached to ropes, which are pulled from a point midway around the pond's shore and added momentum is provided by the boys: some paddle with their feet, sitting on the platform, others swim, pushing the raft.
The area is a little miracle in crowd-management. Somehow the cops keep everything moving smoothly. The lorries queue up next to the pond. Even as they wait, the lorry crews are dismantling the decorations around the idol. Drapery and support columns are taken apart. Flowers are gathered and deposited in huge fibreglass dustbins designed to look like urns, and in the waiting municipal dumpster. The queue inches forward. A forklift navigates the throng, miraculously not impaling anyone with its extended claws. It shambles up to the lorry and sticks its claws under the huge idol’s platform. Men on the lorry push the idol forward, inch by inch. Then, with ease (the idol is twice its height) the forklift lifts the idol off the flatbed, backs up, does a slow, sharp U-turn, and trundles the twenty-odd feet towards the slipway. It lowers the idol, platform & all. Men slide it down to the raft. It is steadied and then its seven-manpower engine churning the water, it glides out to the middle of the pond.
The smaller idols are decanted with some dignity. A swimmer receives it into his arms, and he lets it gently into the water, submerges ut once, then up to the surface once, then he and idol slowly sink below the green water. He then comes up, is pulled on to the raft, and all paddle back to shore.
With the big idols, the crew just shoves mightily, tipping them off. They fall in sideways, upside-down even. The hollow plaster interiors fill up, their unfinished surface visible. (Many of the idols are elaborately painted and decorated in front, but the backs are unfinished too; sometimes you see unpainted plaster.) The boys raise themselves off the sinking idol, pushing it downwards, and it disappears into the murk.
One idol proves tougher to deal with. It is an equestrian Ganesh. The horse is in the ‘salient’ pose (or is it 'rampant?' I'm not sure; but it's the one with front hooves in the air), but the sculptor’s skills did not extend to making the idol stable in that position, so a green mountainish surface support the horse's midriff. (The horse in this position in statues, if I recall correctly, indicates the rider died in battle. I guess the sculptor wasn't too concerned with that. Also, this steed kind of resembled the horses you see in merry-go-rounds. Kind of cute rather than martial.) The equestrian Ganesh was particularly unwieldy. When they finally managed to get it off the raft, it sank upside-down. Rather an undignified departure for the noble-but-cute animal and its divine rider.
At midnight, the throng is still dense, with no end in sight. But the cops have enforced the rules: no more frenzied drums and synths. The processionists, though, are still raucous, dancing away without music to dance to, just their own whistling and yelling. And the police whistles are plenty loud too. There’s a long night ahead for our guardians of the law.
At the pond, one more large idol is being ferried to the middle. As the raft drifts out, the people who brought the idol raise their hands to the sky. Not in prayer; the older people are singing their bhajans, sure, but the raised hands are holding cameras-that-also-make-calls and the glowing devices are bearing witness, recording videos of their Ganesh’s last voyage.
Time to stroll back home, through the sea of plastic cups and other trash. Tomorrow, the municipal trash collection folks have extra work. But my sleepy little neighbourhood will be quiet again, as it is 355 days of the year.