The sun was beating down hard, but Hayat Ahmed, 65, was toiling at Girgaum Chowpatty, his deft fingers revealing his years of experience.
A few feet away, Ahmed’s nephew, Imran Khan, and his cousins sat putting together a massive bamboo frame.
By Thursday, when the city celebrates Dussehra, the bamboo frame will be transformed into a ten-headed Raavan effigy towering over the crowds gathered for the Ramlila finale.
Thirty-five members of Ahmed’s Mathura-based Muslim family have spent the last 13 days in the city, building the effigies for eight Ramlila mandals in the city. For the past 48 years, the family has been coming to the city and camping at the beach to make the effigies.
“From the time of my great grandfather, our family has been doing this work in Uttar Pradesh. I first came to Mumbai 48 years ago to make the Raavan effigy for the Azad Maidan Ramlila. After that, there was no looking back,” said Ahmed.
“We don’t look at Dussehra as something not our own,” he added. “We’re from Braj – Lord Krishna’s birthplace. Where we live, Hindus and Muslims celebrate all festivals together.”
This year, three generations of Ahmed’s family are in the city including his son, Arif Husain, who oversees the making of the effigies and coordinates with the mandals, and his grandson, Imran, a college student, who has come to help out.
“We all have our businesses back home. Making effigies is not our main source of income. But this work is part of our family tradition,” said Arif.
With just a day to go for Dussehra — the culmination of the 10-day festival — the effigies are taking shape, only to go up in flames when Lord Ram slays the demon.
“When we see the effigy being destroyed, it does not make us unhappy. We feel proud, that we too have participated in this legend, in the victory of good over evil,” said Arif.