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Faith no bar for Ganesh bhakts

In Bhandup, practising Sikh Balbir Singh, an actor, has brought an idol home this year, and plans to celebrate with his family every Ganeshotsav.

india Updated: Aug 31, 2006 05:59 IST
Naresh Kamath
Naresh Kamath

At Marine Lines, fruit seller Chand Sheikh, a 26-year-old Muslim, had been such a devout follower of Lord Ganesha since childhood that he was elected president of the local mandal and has already occupied that post for five years.

In Bhandup, practising Sikh Balbir Singh, an actor, has brought an idol home this year, and plans to celebrate with his family every Ganeshotsav.

ACROSS THE city, Sikhs, Christians and numerous Muslims are heading Ganeshotsav mandals, singing artis, distributing prasad. Many are prompted by faith, others by hope or just plain neighbourly interest.

It's Tilak's ideal come true: The festival begun as a nationalist effort to unite Indians in the struggle for freedom is still holding communities together.

"I didn't even realise it was a Hindu festival till some years ago," smiles Sheikh. "The whole building celebrated and we just joined in."

In fact, Sheikh was so enthusiastic that he got voted president of the local Tarun Mitra Ganeshotsava Mandal when he was just 21. He's occupied that position for five years.
Meanwhile, in Bhandup, Singh has installed an idol in his house this year. His whole family is planning to celebrate every Ganeshotsav. They've even learnt the Marathi bhajans that go with the arti.

"Last year, I was struggling to raise money for my five-year-old granddaughter Ankita's heart surgery," says Singh. "I believe Lord Ganesha help me get together the Rs 1.6 lakh and helped save our girl. Now she's fine, and I feel so thankful."

In nearby Azad Nagar, Ghatkopar - a Muslim-dominated area - 72-year-old Liaquat Ali has been the president of the local Jai Durgamata Seva Mandal for 28 years, ever since it was founded.

"Muslims participate in all the festivities and even prepare the prasad," says mandal secretary R K Singh. "All communities live in harmony here."

And then there's the Vasai's Krishna Township Youth Association, which started celebrating Ganeshotsav in 1995. "We were all new here then and decided this would be a great way to get the whole colony together as a community and become friends," says Ahmed Kherani (24), a Muslim scriptwriter, who co-founded the mandal with Christian animation designer Alferd Monteiro (24).

Kherani sings bhajans at the pandal every year. Monteiro loves to play the drums at the artis. "I consider Lord Ganesh to be like Jesus," says Monteiro. "And since I was the founder member of the mandal, the bond is stronger."
Adds a proud Kherani: "I'm involved in every aspect of the festival, right from selecting the idol to deciding the various programmes. I think that's how it should be all over our city."

Eleven years on, Tilak's formula has worked. The 2,500 families in the colony have become well-acquainted and every Ganeshotsava provides a perfect opportunity for a get-together.

First Published: Aug 31, 2006 05:53 IST