Tête-à-tête with Mumbai’s own Bappa

As Mumbai celebrates the 10-day festival worshipping Lord Ganesha, a citizen pens her imagined conversation with the god himself, revealing subtle changes in urban society and how it relates to and celebrates Ganpati Bappa today.

Today we have with us one of the most intriguing gods ever. He comes from a solid lineage.

His father, Mahadev, is known to have caused the big bang. His mother, an excellent chef as Annapoorna, is a formidable Goddess. Well, she has a lion for her pet.

His elder brother Kartikeya is the athletic types, the military commander-in –chief to be precise. Whereas he is more of a nerd.

Apart from the popular stories about his legendary wisdom, he is best known for his assistance in writing the Mahabharata.

Naturally, blessed are we Mumbaikars to have such an illustrious God pay us a visit every year, since….when, actually? And how does he see Aamchi Mumbai and his worshippers changing through the years?

In conversation with Lord Ganesha himself.

Me: So how long have you been visiting Mumbai?

Bappa: Like a true blue Mumbaikar, straight to the point. Good I like that.

Me: No, I meant, I know you are omnipresent and…

Bappa: And all that…but I shall give you the information you seek. Google will tell you, I was the Peshwa’s family deity, that Tilak organised Sarvajanik — or in your language “public” — Ganeshotsavs to unify the people.

What Google will not tell you is that I chose to keep visiting this city, to experience the love and to understand changes that seem rampant. I need to be updated about the problems people face. After all, I am ‘Vighnaharta,’ you see.

Ganesha festival in Mumbai. Pic: Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

Me: Actually Bappa, I really wanted to request you. Trying to get my hands on new iPhone. If you could help me in that, please…

Bappa: Sell your kidney. Oh wait, I can see your expressions change on me asking you to do this. If you can’t take a joke, too bad. You should have known how witty I am.

By the way, you anyway are always on some kind of diet. Only carbs, no carbs, only greens. This way you will get a quick visa to heaven, anyway!

Me: No please. I intend to stay here until Apple runs out of newer versions for iPhone. And I can’t possibly have calorific modaks like you do. I mean, I need stonewash abs.

Bappa: Don’t you body shame me! You better know my body is metaphorical. I need to maintain this body type to enable you to continue with your symbolism. My big belly signifies digesting all that is good and bad, with equal gusto. My huge ears suggest you become better listeners; respond, do not react. Empathise.

Me: Your tooth needs to be fixed.

Bappa: Not insured. My bad. Dad got busy protecting you guys and mom was fighting off Mahishasur. More importantly, some sacrifice, in this case of the tooth, is a prerequisite to advancing in something. And modaks, you mentioned calories? Not aware of quinoa and jaggery ones? Or steamed ragi ones?

Me: You get those? I wasn’t aware. The only variety I have seen is kaju modaks, chocolate ones and mithai ones. Of course, steamed ukdiche modak are the best, albeit calorific again.

A sweet shop selling various types of modaks and other sweets for Ganesh Chaturthi. Pic: Prabir Ghose/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Bappa: See, when I spoke of change in society, this is what I was referring to.

Me: You were referring to modaks? Oh! I thought it would be about greed, gluttony and false gaiety.

Bappa: Look my dear, I am good with mass appeal. Think singular screens, not IMAX. I do give gyaan, but in my stories.

Me: Like the one where Kuber kept on hoarding wealth? His greed and ego led him to invite you over for a meal…

Bappa: Ah, that was a good one. Poor guy kept on feeding me, but he had an important lesson to learn. Only after he ran out of his supplies, his wealth to buy more supplies and his super inflated ego did he give up. One mouthful of his pure love was all that was needed to satiate me. Am waiting! Anything you learnt from this one story?

Me: That greed causes grief, that ego leads to fall. That iPhone can probably wait. Let me focus on my interview Bappa, you intervene too much. Any changes in the city, apart from dented roads for metro and scented politicians in your pandals?

Bappa: Those aren’t my pandals. I mean, you seriously think my “Sagun murtimant” roop would be in Plaster of Paris, causing marine life more harm than good? Are you aware that originally soil from the river shore was used in making my idol? And immersion of idol signified that even god has to go through a cycle of life and death, only to be reborn in idol form again.

Me: But those P.O.P idols are beautiful. One pandal I went to it was six feet high but some actress visited at the same time. I stood there in the queue for an hour, my patience ran out later.

Bappa: Six feet tall? Bhakti is now measured in feet, is it? So you pay an amount, get in special queue for darshan! Let me tell you I am truly happy when all of you come together for aarti, converse with each other, celebrate your joys and sorrows. This business of pandals really does not excite me. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

Me: But we do have murtis made from that soil, “shaduchi maati”…eco friendly Ganesha.

Bappa: Excuse me, I have always been eco-friendly. Look at me, I have an elephant head and a mouse for an Uber.

It may have escaped your observation that India is and was primarily an agrarian country. Elephant and mice both cause mayhem in fields. What do you do? Worship them and request them to remove obstacles, not create ones. See my dad thought of all this in his famous rage outburst. Thought it was a rather made-up story, nothing more.

Me: And mushak?

Bappa: Ahh, he was an Asura, a demon, causing havoc in a hermit’s ashram. He begged for forgiveness and thus the mushaka. You see, every saint has a past and every sinner a future. Everyone however wrong they may seem to you, need to be given a chance for redemption. And if it still does not work out, I am just a modak away.

Me: Bappa, we can never thank you enough. My only prayer is, may we be worthy of your blessings. May we understand the significance of your sagun and nirgun avatars.

Ganpati Bappa Morya. Pudchya Varshi Lavkar Ya.

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