iconimg Monday, May 25, 2015

Swati Goel Sharma, Hindustan Times
Mumbai, August 17, 2014
Sunal Ali, 26, is counting the hours before he stands shoulder to shoulder with his friends to form a dahi handi pyramid on Monday at Dadar in Mumbai. Ali has been practising every day for two hours after office, even when he was fasting during Ramzan. "I hope we can repeat our feat from last year and form an eight-tier pyramid," he said.

His excitement is shared by Novel Nikalje, 21, a dancer who will miss an important show for the celebrations, and Jasmeet Singh Chadha, 23, who has opted to take a day's break from his business.

The three 'govindas', part of the 150-member team of Akhil Malpa Dongri 1-2-3 Mitra Mandal in Andheri (East), will not only break a pot of curd, but also religious barriers. More than one-third members of the nine-year-old mandal are non-Hindus - at least 60 members are Christians, Sikhs and Muslims.

"I have been a govinda since I was a child. Every dahi handi, the neighbourhood boys, who were fascinated by the festival, would attempt to form  a small human pyramids," said Novel.

His two brothers Somel and younger brother Jovel have also taken part as 'govindas'. "We never looked at it as a tradition of only Hindus," said Somel, 24.

Shashank Desai, the mandal's spokesperson, attributed the secular flavour of the team to the cosmopolitan nature of the area. "We have a church, gurudwara and temple metres away from each other, even though 70% residents are Maharashtrians," he said.

"Once they see the handi, they all become govindas," said Vivek Pagde, 34, the mandal's coach, adding that the religious harmony extends to festivals of other communities as well.