Trunk callers: Meet the unsung heroes of your Ganeshotsav festivities
The flower guy. The idol caretaker. The electrician. Putting together Mumbai’s biggest religious festival takes an army of skilled devotees.mumbai Updated: Sep 02, 2017 12:00 IST
What makes Ganesh Chaturthi such a glamourous festival? Or should we say, who? Scores of people contribute to give Mumbai’s Ganesh pandals an unforgettable quality, forgetting themselves in the process. This weekend, when you visit a mandap for an aarti, remember someone worked to ensure it started on time. When the LEDs light up the evening, remember that someone made sure the wiring was safe. The next time you celebrate, you can celebrate them as well.
‘FLOWER DUTY REQUIRES BEING PUNCTUAL AND DEDICATED’
Shaoji Kadam, 54, flower in-charge at Saatbanglacha Mandal, Andheri West
“Offering flowers is the most important process of any puja. And for us, it’s critical to choose only the fresh ones because those that touch the ground are considered impure,” says Kadam.
“So for the seven days that we celebrate, I am at the florist at 5 am, sometimes even before that, to ensure that I get the freshest. We also like to have a variety, so I choose from a range of flowers. The garland for the big and the small idol is bought from a separate florist since he specialises in making them and their delivery could take three to four hours since the flowers first need to be picked and each garland needs to be made according to the size of the idol.”
Team of two and three are deployed to ferry these garlands to the pandal, since they must be changed twice a day. “It’s not a time or labour intensive duty but if you’re going to take this up, one needs to be very punctual because a delay can mean that the whole aarti gets pushed, leading to a sense of agitation among the public,” Kadam says.
‘I HAVE TO ENSURE EVERYTHING IS IN THE SAME POSITION AS IT HAD BEEN’
Nitin Hanjankar, 48, idol caretaker at Paralcha Raja, Nare Park, Parel
“I have been associated with Parelcha Raja for over 30 years and am involved in taking care of the idol — keeping it safe, cleaning it, offering modaks to the idol. It involves a lot of work,” says Hanjankar. Duty starts at 6 am and won’t really stop till visarjan. A team works in shifts.
“Ours is a 32-ft idol and we have to bring it to the mandal with utmost care – one chip means we have to replace the whole statue.”
Once installed, it is cleaned about ten times a day because people are constantly showering it with rice and flowers. “We also ensure that the diyas, Ganesha’s mouse, flowers and puja leaves never move from their original position. It’s considered an omen. The hardest part is to ensure that the diya near the idol is always lit.”
Hanjankar says this is the one festival he looks forward to all year. “I am a clerk at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research so it’s important that I do both my duties responsibly.”
‘I HAVE TO PLAY ACCORDING TO EVERYONE’S LIKING’
Hemant Patel, 28, music co-ordinator at Bhaveshwarcha Raja, Ghatkopar
“I am a civil contractor by day but for 11 days a year I have a night job too, playing the aarti twice a day and bhajans on public demand. I like doing it because it makes me feel positive.
“But there are challenges too. Sometimes people enjoy the celebrations so much that they forget the 10pm deadline and I have to ask them to come early the next day to enjoy more of the programme or switch off the microphones and let people sing without them.
“During the cultural events, I am constantly behind the console.
“But visarjan is my favourite part. I love seeing people enjoying my music so fully. On visarjan day last year, we were about to begin with the final procession when the generator stopped working. You cannot avoid such things, no matter how many precautions you take.”
‘WE HAVE TO BE WELL-HYDRATED. THAT’S THE KEY TO PLAYING FOR EIGHT HOURS STRAIGHT’
Sudhir Bhalsingh, 33, visarjan band player
“I have always been attracted to anything that makes music. When my uncles left Chakan in Pune for the cities for visarjans, I’d accompany them and that’s how I picked up the art of playing the dhol and tasha. It’s been 23 years and I’ve played for more than 100 mandals.
“There’s a lot of practice involved—all of us have to play in sync, we have to ensure we’re all hydrated and eaten enough to play at least for four hours at a stretch. We’re a team of 45 (including replacements), playing in turns for when one of them is tired. Come sun or the rain, we never stop playing. Two years ago, during a heavy downpour, nobody from a Malad mandap turned up for the visarjan, but we didn’t stop playing. On listening to us, people put on their dancing shoes and danced the evening away in the rain. That encouraged us so much and that is something I will always cherish.”
‘PEOPLE WANT SHOCK VALUE; THAT CAN END UP LOOKING LIKE A CHILD’S CRAFT PROJECT’
Rajesh Kashyap, 51, electrician
I have been working with lights since I was 10. I love it when places are lit up and decorated. When I am doing the lights it takes all my focus, because it can make or break the ambience.
Once, one of the mandaps wanted to recreate the Sheesh Mahal and I told them to keep only yellow lights but they wanted colourful lights. It ended up looking like a children’s craft project. Some pandals want way too many colours, some want to keep it simple, so it’s difficult to make everyone understand what will look good and what won’t.
In four decades, demands have changed from a simple look to nothing less than grand. It’s the shock value that mandaps believe in. When the audience gets a glimpse inside for the first time, all they want is to hear a wow. No one wants to settle for just a spotlight on the idol anymore.