I observed a different sort of fervor when I crossed the Indian Ocean. I never really meant to explore on the other side of the ocean, but people took me along, over the years and gave me a new home. Although people tried to adopt the ways of the new country, they wanted to continue the traditions of my festival, the Ganesh festival. I thought, why not share with you, my ten day experience to one of the universities in the US.
Indian graduate students, true to their nature, began preparing just the day before my ETA. I had done my background research about these students and realized that their salaries were quite meagre. Naturally, they were using the same statue for the past few years. It was bought from Texas and had a discreet “Made in China” tag underneath. China had clearly realized my demand in the US and started manufacturing my statues. I gave a brief laugh and focussed my attention back to the decorations. Frantic trips were made to Walmart, Dollar Stores, etc. After scouring the aisles of party supplies, students had to settle for streamers and confetti. A few Hawaiian flower garlands were also bought. The Indian store was clever enough to make huge profits by selling pooja material. While some students enthusiastically focussed on obtaining high resolution print outs of ashtavinayaks for decoration and reference materials for pooja, aarti, mantra pushpanjali, atharvashirsha, etc., few others struggled to make perfect modaks. Somehow, the place was set up and my ten day short US tour at this university began!
Should we welcome Ganesha at India time or US time, was a big question. While I waited patiently wondering when exactly will I be let inside the house, everyone came to the conclusion that US time suits everyone the best. Students struggled to dress up in a traditional attire to welcome me, but some of them gave up in vain because of busy class/lab schedules and deadlines. One of the couples was made in charge of welcoming me and one of the students who claimed to know Sanskrit helped them. None of the attendees or me understood his Sanskrit but he seemed very dedicated. After an hour of water-draining-from-hand ritual, we all (including me) let out a collective sigh of relief and excitement when the modaks were brought in for me. As I stared hungrily at the modaks, I heard arguments about how many aartis should we sing. Some devout followers voted for an even number and another group wanted odd numbers. Some of us who did not really care about anything at that point except for modaks, decided that we will sing all the aartis, on the print outs, whether odd or even, to acknowledge the efforts of students from mechanical engineering, who had printed and stapled them for everyone till 2 am that morning. The aarti lacked basic rhythm but I applauded at the attempt. I was actually tired of listening to Lata Mangeshkar and Anuradha Paudwal versions in India. Anything, apart from them, was a good welcome for my elephant ears!
All of this was repeated for ten days. While I sat there, relaxing on my trip abroad, I kept observing the people who visited me. I usually don’t judge the devotion of my devotees, but couldn’t help from thinking that some people here were more devoted compared to their Indian counterparts. Well, they did not splurge on any performance enhancers so that they can stay up all night to play dhol tasha for me but here, the expression was different. Since such kind of noise pollution and blatant exhibition of one’s religion was not allowed in this university, all the devotion was restricted towards making the best prasad for me. And students found yet another avenue for free food! Not that I blame them because I enjoyed each prasad too! Some students appeared confused if they should worship me or not. They seemed to be contemplating idol worship of this sort and I blessed them so that they can decide what is best for them. The other extremes were pure non-believers who were visiting me with two motives, to eat good food and “to socialize”, if you know what I mean! The devout worshippers were scarier for me. They would compete vociferously with others of their kind while singing the aarti and atharvashirsha. They would glare at people who did not recite any of these and directly challenge their upbringing by their stares. All this while, I would just sit there, peacefully, enjoying these different strokes of devotion.
Each ritual, be it the first day or the last, was marred by discussions of what should be done and what should not be done. As rain showered on the last day of my tour, a hurried procession reached the river to symbolically immerse me. I became emotional and blessed everyone to finish their studies and adopt a broader view towards this world and their peers without bias. I blessed them to cross the bridges of humanity and embrace everyone just like they crossed this vast distance from India to America. My emotion was rewarded by flashing compass needles from iphones, followed by a heated up discussion to ensure that I was being sent away in the right direction.
My name is Ganesha and I will definitely find my direction, but, I just hope you all know where you are going.