Chicago Blues

This blog is an online repertoire of my columns that run in the Indian Express, North American edition. Here I rave and rant about life, mostly as seen from the large vistas of my little world.

Location: Chicago, United States

Friday, December 21, 2007

Little Wonder, Mammoth Blessings

The good old elephant God, as I know it, is the only Indian god who is omnipresent, in the truest sense of the word. From the humble hands of the rural Indian potters, to the more sophisticated, crystal-studded glory of Swarowski, Ganesha has duly been covered. He has been envisaged and crafted in many poses, and He is the only God to have set a trend following, among the old, the young, the old-fashioned, and the contemporary. Peek into a desi’s car and you may well happen upon a magnetic, glittering Ganesha in a Yoga pose, sitting unreservedly on the dashboard, ready to bless them along their trips to strange destinations on foreign roads.

Every year, like many other Gods of His standing, Ganesha is beckoned and worshipped over a period of ten or more days, usually in early September. The commercialization of this festival, which has now touched American shores, dates back, ostensibly, to the 1800s. According to ancient lore, it was Lokamanya Tilak who encouraged the making of the festival a public event, in order to foster friendly relations among the various strata of the Hindu community, in a way that would scream to the Britishers how unified they were, with their cohesive prayers for the God of “everyman.” But it makes one wonder just how private the worshipping of their favorite elephant-faced God, who is considered the sole harbinger of good fortune, used to be prior to that, for the select few Hindus who considered themselves chaste and eligible enough to do so.

When I see the throngs of people gathering at a community association hall (which, more often than not, is merely the stiff-walled confines of a district school classroom), or the local Hindu temple, scurrying to make it in time before the holy water is sprinkled, the consecrated flame is offered, or the “prasadam” is distributed, just so they can make that one last prayer, one last request before the curtain falls, it makes me realize just how profound the effect of this perfect, charming God is on us all.

With every flicker of a scented candle flame, which is, more often than not, a makeshift for the cotton-wicked lamp, I see flashes of a childhood steeped in forgotten mores. Of times when entire colonies of trusting adults flocked a small, brick-tiled-platform version of a “temple” in my city to see the finely chiseled stone idol of the elephant-headed God take in gallons of milk through His winning, coiled trunk. Of moments when every new beginning, including something as meager as the first day of school, was always ushered with a little prayer to Him. Of a memorable, touching glimpse of time when my grandma handed me a “growing stone,” one that she had found amid abandoned temple rubble in her native village in Southern India, and one that had, as her innocent childhood thickened into an affirming adolescence, taken to sprouting hints of an elephant-face. And even though the life-size clay idols are greatly missed, and the chants reel off from speakers attached to precariously wired electronic gadgets, as opposed to the animated vocal chords of a family priest, the goodwill and harmony that the festive season generates is overwhelming enough to make one feel completely at home and at peace, even sitting estranged by oceans and miles from the homeland.

Even as I clutch on to my grandma’s secret little miracle “Ganesha,” and carry on with my praying routine almost perfunctorily, chanting His name invariably in times of distress or joy, the real jolt stems from something else. It is not often that one sees the universality of a marvel such as this, especially when, through the mind of a foreigner, wearing a “Ganesha” locket is depicted a surefire way to hope for a win at a contest on a television show. Religious preferences aside, Ganesha is surely as big a phenomenon as Eid, Christmas, MLB, or World Cup cricket. He reminds me every so often, from the moment I wake to his smiling countenance on the nightstand, that He is as prevailing as a blue, sunlit sky would be on a bleak winter’s day in Chicago.

All His modern “avatars” notwithstanding, even if it depicts a computer “mouse” and Him lounging and listening to i-Tunes on a Macbook, or Him in any of Lladro’s elbow-resting poses, as a real mouse fans Him devotedly, He will always stand out in unique grace for His sundry believers, smiling His coy smile from beneath a tusk.


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