Photo by BL SONI
Photo by BL SONI

As early as 5:00 am in the morning, an otherwise calm street in one of the by-lanes of Mumbai would come to life to welcome Lord Ganesha. For the next 11 days, not a single car would be allowed parking inside the lane. Most vehicles owners would (beforehand), ensure a safe parking spot at their nearest relative or friend’s compound.

Elders accompanied by youngsters wearing volunteer badges would be seen at the entrance of the lane ensuring the front gate is decorated well. A huge banner depicting the number of years the lane has been celebrating Ganesh festival would be prominently displayed at the entrance. Some would be in the enclosure where Lord Ganesha would be installed for the festival, giving final touch-up to the decorations. It would be an open enclosure from front, unlike the ones we see today closed from all sides leaving a small rat hole for the people to enter. One could get a glimpse of the Lord from afar.

Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Suresh Wadkar, K. J. Yesudas took turns on the loudspeaker to ensure that we are up early in the morning to be a part of the festivity that would go on beyond sunset. On some special night, while Ganesha is sitting peacefully in his earthly abode, a Hindi movie would be played on a huge white screen with the entire lane being packed with discerning audience. I remember us as kids would mark our places two-three hours in advance, even when the projector operator was nowhere in sight. Elders, who had done it all and seen it before, knew exactly when to assemble (which was mostly a few minutes prior to the start of the film). The movie would then move from one lane to the other, a kind of a mutual exchange pact between the organisers.

The 11-day festival would see a host of activities and competitions taking place: there would be a Fancy Dress competition (for children and adults), orchestra, cooking competition, sports events like racing with a lemon on spoon in your mouth, rug hopping, musical chair, and more. Apart from this, on the weekends there would be dinner organised for all on behalf of the Ganpati Mandal, which was a treat for the tummy and feast for the eyes with lip-smacking colourful dishes on the plate. Days filled with fun, laughter and enjoyment would make everyone forget animosity and come together to celebrate the arrival of one of the most beloved gods, Lord Ganesha…

Exchange of sweets, during morning, afternoon and night prayers would be a delight for kids (and adults alike). No one to stop anyone from feasting upon Lord Ganesha’s choicest modaks. But over the years, things changed. Today, Lord Ganesha is put into a closed pandal, with a few volunteers amidst a lot of parked vehicles and no movies on projectors, because where’s space! Fancy dress competitions and sports events are a long-lost story. Children are busy social networking or playing Candy Crush on smartphones and legendary singers are being replaced with loud and no-connection-with-the-festival item songs.

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