A Blast from the past:
This post was written for Yahoo’s Fit to Post blog back in 2010. A venture that has since closed sadly, (and I thought it was doing rather well!) and for the life of me couldn’t find a cached version of this article anywhere! Tried pinging the two persons who were involved and one has moved on and Mr. Panicker of course
is a busy man to respond to random authors of solo articles on a long forgotten baby. replied ever so nicely!
Fortunately, I checked here and I do find the draft. This seems rare even for me, as am not the most organized writer there is. In other ways, am alright, and am just going to blame my juggling role for this failure and leave it at that.
So here it is! I had a few images of various stages of Ganesha peppered into the post, but the article is intact.
PS: I have some nice memories attached to this writing and am glad I found it in the drafts. 🙂
Growing up, Ganesh Chaturthi was always a favorite festival. Next to Deepavali of course, as nothing can really beat the sheer joy of making fire and sound and NOT get yelled at for the same. Ganesh Chaturthi however, had a different thrill to it.
Thinking back, the concept of the clay idol was the clincher. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that Ganesha was the only God that could be made, hand made by the common man, or maybe it was his appearance, or maybe it was because Mom took a back seat and it was just us kids and Dad who took charge from the beginning. Whatever it was, there was always a tangible excitement that filled that time of the year.
Visions of the festival was always of us sisters in new clothes, with our washed hair still dripping wet, a plate of raw rice in our hand, walking to the street corner to bring home one clay Ganesha. The decision on which Ganesha to pick was the highlight. Especially considering they all came from the same mold the man used sitting right there on the sidewalk.
Somehow, it seemed like there was always a difference between them: one’s trunk seemed slightly off, an eye lopsided, the left ear bent more than the right or the toes just not lined correct. How we could see any of this is a question that will remain unanswered, for various (and obvious) reasons, but after spending a fairly large amount of time, we’d settle on the “perfect” idol. That singular task was the most important part of the day. The rest, including making modakas, the books, the prayers and even the food was incidental.
Moving to the USA at a time when one would be reminded of India only during a visit to the temple, or the Indian grocery store, it has been a sub-conscious need to retain a part of us, including our childhood favorites. The dressing, the foods, the rituals; the nuances of all what made us. The nuggets that got added onto us as children that molded us into the adults that we are.
While I sat brooding one day and feeling sorry that I wasn’t back in the crowded streets haggling over the clay idols, I was hit by what I still consider my best idea ever to bring home an India that I knew and cherished. If I couldn’t get a clay idol that I could pick up, why not make one myself? Lord knew the craft stores here catered to different pliable clay forms in every imaginable color. The excitement of this bolt of an idea had me driving insanely to the nearest craft store 10 miles away at 8:50 in the night, dashing in minutes before they closed!
I just had to have the clay, what I made of it was another story. So I did. I brought home a one pound slab of gray-green clay and I sat staring at it and the small silver Ganesha alternately to figure it all out.
It was well past midnight, when I wore a happy grin on my face and went to bed.
The husband had his not very flattering opinion on the small clay creation that I showed him with much pride the next morning, but in my mind’s eyes, all I saw was a smaller version of the clay idol from back home in India.
That is all that really mattered.
And so, every year, I would recreate my version of Ganesha the night before the day. Sometimes Jay Leno would give me company, sometimes it was the Saturday Night Live, sometimes the latest Bollywood flick, sometimes it was MS Subbalakshmi’s Pancharatna Kirtanas and sometimes it was the occasional sick wailing child, but the couple of hours where I would cut, tear, punch, pinch, slap and coax the clay into a Ganesha were divinely relaxing and to a large extent fulfilling.
The Ganesha has changed colors, sizes and even shapes. One year I could only find a small slab of gray and had to settle for for a miniature size, one year it was multi-colored coz we just felt (and by we, I mean, me and the kids) Ganesha could use some color on Him, sometimes it was terracotta, sometimes he was just plain with just the holy thread across his shoulder, and occasionally we threw in the glitter. Once he didn’t have much of a potbelly, and one occasion we forgot his vehicle, the mouse. These days, the kids want to do their own, and last year we had not one or two, but FOUR different sized and colored Ganeshas on our mandap.
End of the day, it is always bliss. Our Ganesha was our own. Made of clay, and made of our hands. When we fold our palms and close our eyes in prayer, to give us all a peaceful and prosperous start to the school year, we share an affinity with Him and between ourselves.
We create our own tradition with pride and passion. Not unlike the tradition that I shared with my sister, Dad and Mom, many years ago. And just like the tradition of yester years will remain in the past as a collectible memory, the least I can give my children is a tradition that will remain in their memory, come what the future holds.