Monday, September 24, 2012

Ganpati Bappa Moraya...

It is a gloomy day in Suzhou today - the lazy kind of day that makes you want to get back into bed and sleep till noon! Or curl up in an armchair with a cuppa tea and a wonderful book and read the day away. No such luck though - all my kitchen stuff sitting on my overloaded table has been calling out to me! Finally managed to get most of it put away today - my kitchen is looking more like a kitchen and less like a disaster zone! The rest of the house is pretty settled now. The last big thing remaining is the TV setup in the family room. Lot more complicated than it sounds - our TV is bought in the US, our sound system is from India and the cable box and the modem are local. The US should just switch to 240V and save globe-trotters like us a lot of trouble! And what is it with all connectors and plugs being different everywhere we go? I can't hook up anything without buying all kinds of fancy adapters for all our gadgets! Standardization? God forbid!

Our house has a little storage room on the ground floor. When we first saw the house, we thought this would be an ideal location for our devghar - a little puja room by itself. Of course, all the cabinets would have to be moved elsewhere, preferably, into the garage. The landlord moved out all his furniture, but said he would be back to care of the cabinets later. A week went by, and I was getting desperate. I needed the devghar to be installed before Ganesh Chaturthi! Finally, I called our agent - after a lot of three way calling, the landlord agreed to move the cabinets on Tuesday. I waited all morning for him, and when he finally did show up at 2pm, he was alone. The only tools he had were a hammer and a screwdriver. Now these cabinets are huge - 8 of them with lots of shelves and drawers, which had to disassembled and reassembled in the garage. Certainly not a job for a single person. Wait, did I forget to mention to him that I needed this done TODAY?? Well, he started unscrewing the doors off the cabinets, painfully slow work! When I couldn't stand it anymore - which was about 15 minutes later - I offered him Ajey's power drill. But no, he wanted to stick with his screwdriver. Two more helpers showed up after a couple of hours, but they didn't bring any tools with them. So now, three guys, 1 hammer, 1 screwdriver! When the cigarette smoke got to be unbearable, I left them to it, and went upstairs. It took them an awfully long time, but they did finish by 9pm. Now that the cabinets were moved out, the little room looked huge. Plenty of space for our puja room!

Former storage our puja room!

Next day, with the help of my maid, I scrubbed the room - there was years of filth which had been hiding behind the cabinets - and moved the devghar into the room. Did I mention that our devghar, which we bought in Chennai, is about 4 feet tall, made of solid rose-wood, and is incredibly heavy?? We had to half pick up and half drag it to get it into place!The next part was easier - polishing the wood and silver, and then installing all our frames. That evening, we did a modest aarti, as opposed to the more elaborate puja we usually perform on Ganesh Chaturthi. No modaks either- I didn't have all the ingredients, and my kitchen is still not fully functional!!

Now Ganesh Chaturthi is essentially a public function - sarvajanik as we say in Marathi. It was celebrated as such since the times of Shivaji, who established the Maratha Empire in the late 1600s. The practice was discontinued with the fall of the Peshwas, who were the rulers of the Empire till its end in the early 1800s. Only to be revived in 1893 by Lokmanya Tilak, who popularized the 'Sarvajanik Ganesh Utsav' - public celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi - as a means to generate nationalistic fervour against the British colonial rule. Ganesh Utsav is still widely celebrated all over India, and is one of the most popular Indian festivals. I have fond memories of my entire extended family gathering to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi at my grandparents house in Sangli - hard to imagine now, about 50 people and only 1 bathroom!! Those were indeed, simpler times!

In India, Ganesh Chaturthi is a public holiday - but elsewhere, Ganesh too, must bow to the exigencies of work hours and school bed times! Celebrations are usually reserved for the weekend closest to Ganesh Chaturthi. Where ever we have lived, we have always managed to celebrate this festival with a large group of friends. So it was really special to share our first Ganesh Utsav in China with some of our new friends! We had planned a simple pot-luck, which actually evolved into a sumptuous feast! Ganesh got his modaks, and so did all of us! After a rousing aarti, and a late lunch, we spent the afternoon playing cards. What a wonderful way to spend the day!! Looking forward to many, many such weekends!!!

More information on the Ganesh festival is available on - those interested can look it up! From all the Coolkarnis here in China - A very happy Ganesh Chaturthi to all of you! Ganpati Bappa Moraya!!

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