GBM to everybody. For those over 45 like myself, GBM is Ganpati Bappa Moraya. Never confuse it with SDM, which is: See, that’s Dino Morea. GBM was obviously beyond my singular capacity. To be honest, it's my 12-year-old daughter who taught me that one. Her exact words were DBSBGBM. “Don’t be so backward, it's Ganpati Bappa Morya”.
Ganpati, has been around since, well, Ganpati. But the rules and regulations have undergone subtle changes over the years. Since 90% of my readers are foreigners who are in Mumbai on three-day visas, I think it's my duty, no, my job, no, make that my divine right, to give them a quick poor man’s guide to the wonderful festival of Ganpati. Actually, to be clear, this guide is only going to cover Southern Mumbai. As to cross the sea link and enter the suburbs will cost the writer Rs 105. Which is basically what he gets paid for this column, give or take a rupee. The Ganpati festival was started, and to give you a specific date, a few thousand years ago. It was revived again during the Lokmanya Tilak era. Although Lokmanya Tilak died before my birth, I do know Dr Amod Tilak, which may or may not count for something, no one is really sure.
The basic concept of Ganpati means, bringing Bappa into your house and then immersing him in water at the relevant time. Though the multitudes prefer the sea, there was a move to make the immersion practice more environmentally sensitive. Someone in the government suggested that all the Ganpatis be immersed in the various club swimming pools. This included big names like the NSCI Club, Willingdon Club and the Bombay Gymkhana. The CCI, (Cricket Club of India), was not considered, as it was seen to be too close to the Arabian Sea. This plan failed. The Bombay Gymkhana has no parking permission, so no Ganpatis could park at her gate. The NSCI had already given out the club for a trade show. And you know these trade shows attract even more people than Ganpati, and besides, they cause even worse traffic jams. Willingdon was all set to welcome the devotees, but then at the very last minute, had to turn them all away, as all the devotees had wrong footwear. Chappals! You can’t wear chappals to the Willingdon Club, even if you are the son of Lord Willingdon. (Let’s just call him Robbie). Wodehouse Club escaped all this controversy, not because of ‘lagaoing’ influence, but because they’ve a club without a swimming pool. Rumour has it, they did once own a swimming pool, but sometime ago, it got lost. Probably stolen, and hasn’t been found again, since.
Another amazing observation that will floor my foreign friends is that 70% of all males who go for immersion, do so in long pants. Actual trousers. Pants you wear when you apply for a job in sales, marketing or public relations. There is no parallel like this in the world. Globally, no other culture has a celebrated aquatic event, where the men dress in long pants and enter a water body. The only possible comparison would be to the pirates of the 16th and 17th centuries, which includes Pirates of the Caribbean - Parts 1, 2 and 3. The pirates would make their enemies walk the plank in full pants. This they did, as they did not want their enemies to catch a cold before drowning.
Of course, we’re in the digital age, and a Ganpati festival cannot, and must not, be selfie-free. Most people carry three phones as the journey from start to finish can be anything from 4 to 24 hours. Obviously, no phone can last that long. Sadly, every year we lose a few devotees, who take selfies while turning their back to the sea. The sea, that secular sea, doesn’t care if you are porcelain or clay, flesh or less flesh, she just gobbles it all up and spits out the undigested parts at Versova.
Then there’s the music. Well, back in the day it was supposed to be devotional songs, bhajans, keertans, and that sort of spiritual enlightenment. But now, catering to a broad audience, the odd devotional song is interspersed with the compelling spiritual majesties of artists like Yo Yo Honey Singh, Arijit Singh (not related, not even by music), Pritam, and Shankar–Ehsan–Loy. Also, perennial favourites like ‘Mera Piya Ghar Aaya’, ‘Dard-e-Disco’ can always be counted on, to make an appearance. With the influx of the American-returned Ganpati disciples, a few English tracks are also on the cards. Towards sunset Taylor Swift and Cardi B mesmerize a non-English speaking audience into spiritual splendour. It actually showcases how secular, and open-minded a festival, Ganpati has become. However, if you look at Ganpati as an IPL tournament, you will see they are similar. Long pants, loud music. Only, Ganpati has more sponsors and money. Then each pandal is judged by the celebrities that turn up. The biggest pandals have Shah Rukhs, Salmans, Amitabhs and Akshays, the smallest, 'recession'ist ones, have…..er… me. There is even talk of the Lalbaugcha Raja getting Will Smith this year. And I have it on official letterhead that cricketer Ben Stokes, known for his finishing abilities, will be the chief guest at Marine Drive on the final day of immersion.
My last piece of advice to foreign friends is, worry not and please enjoy the festival. Only one precaution, wear a bell around your neck, so we can locate you the next morning. GBM!
The writer is a comedian, TV anchor, theatre personality, satirist, podcaster and an author.