Ganpati bappa is here. Every year, this ten-day festival is celebrated with pomp and splendour. But this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the celebrations are somewhat muted with not much festive fervour and spirit emanating from the streets of Mumbai. Generally, this is the best time to be in Mumbai. August-September is usually when Ganpati bappa arrives in every nook, corner and almost every home in the city, filling it up with enthusiasm. But, it's different year. Never in my life have I seen Ganeshotsav being celebrated in such a low key manner. In fact, it doesn't even feel like the festival has already begun.
Almost every lane, road, street in Girgaon, South Mumbai, boosts of pandals (a place where bappa is housed for 10 days) and are lit up for Bappa. But, this year, the streets are almost deserted. Many sarvajanik (pucblic) Ganesh pandals have cancelled the celebrations owing to the coronavirus pandemic. Many gharguti (private) ganpatis have also seen a decline. As a kid I used to go pandal hoping with my father (after growing up it was with my reluctant sister who wouldn't go beyond a few blocks). Bappa idols in various shapes and sizes, the majestic and splendid decorations were a sight to behold. Even last, I would visit almost all the pandals on my way home—stress and tension forgotten the minute I would step inside the pandal. The feeling is indescribable! This year, it's bye-bye to all that! In fact, I won't be able to visit relatives and friends for darshan—not to mention gorge on different kinds of modaks that every place would offer. And nor would my friends or relatives be able to come visit our place.
Though we have also got bappa home, it doesn't feel like festival. Fear of going to a public place for visarjan, we switched our usual 13-inch shaducha (clay) Ganpati for a seven-inch alum one. And, the visarjan will be carried out at home. So no annual visarjan day ritual as well (which includes eating pani puri after bappa is sent home, the day is incomplete without this).
One of Mumbai’s most defining images is that of towering Ganpati idols being immersed in the Arabian sea on the last day. All this will be also be missing this year with the Maharashtra government capping the height of idols at four feet and encouraging people to conduct immersions in artificial ponds instead of the sea. There won't even be visarjan miravnuk (procession) which includes devotees dancing to the beats of dhol, tasha (and sometimes DJ)--social distancing has to be maintained, and processions are quiet opposite of that!
Just the way it was a quiet arrival for Bappa, it's going to be quiet departure for him. I don't like the 'new normal' and not sure if Bappa likes it too! Though I am sure he isn't exactly missing the loudspeakers blaring atrocious songs. But, like me, he too must be missing all the lovely faces he gets to see and meet during the ten days that he comes home (or a pandal).