It has been a while and I return with a story, a story of a man returning back to India after a long time and that too at an auspicious time of the year. I have tried my best to portray in short what it feels to return back to your roots and why India is so much better off with festivals that bring people closer. Just a heads-up that since I didn’t get time to proofread this, the story might have some silly mistakes. If it does, please ignore them!
Hope you enjoy it. Also, HAPPY GANESH CHATURTHI from me. Enjoy this day with your family. Let the big guy shower you with blessings and wisdom. He is pretty cool that way. I am sure he will.
Back to India
by Kunal Nayak
The MAN wouldn’t have been there, if his wife from California had not forced him. He would perhaps still be working on his major project in California. It was just Wednesday and he still had time to go back all the way from Mumbai to CA to work on it. But he knew he couldn’t.
The MAN was in a cab. An air conditioned UBER that he had ordered for himself using his mobile app. After multiple counts of mugging, thefts and robberies on the news, the MAN no longer trusted the local cabs that one could get from the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport. All he wanted to do was reach his home in peace, do the deed and get over with this ordeal. No matter what SHE had requested, he would simply NOT wait for more than a day.
The cab came to a halt, quite suddenly. The MAN looked about, searching for a reason. The music playing inside the cab (on his request of course) was drowned by a loud beating of drums. The drums were rhythmic and strangely familiar to the MAN. He saw from his windows a procession. People were dancing merrily on the roads, with music being played by a band of traditionally clothed men walking slowly behind them. The young women and men, little kids and some other folks danced with zeal and energy in front to the beats, almost as if in a trance. Behind them stood older men, holding a murti.
It was an idol of a child with the head of an elephant. A jolt of tingles made the MAN realize from his cab that it was the idol of Ganapati, the Hindu God of Wisdom and Intellect. It was a strangely familiar sight for the MAN. He recognized the small golden chariot that had been artistically made, yet the old men had chosen to carry the idol with their own, bare hands.
“What is all this commotion?” demanded the MAN angrily, “How long is it going to take?” he asked in the local tongue. He confessed to himself that his local tongue was clumsy and raw.
“Sorry, saar but there is a huge traffic jam in front. Tomarrow is Ganesha Chaturthi, saar,” explained the cab driver. He looked helpless but he said it with a smile. That annoyed the MAN even more.
A sudden downpour of heavy rain drowned the music inside the cab completely. It was thundering, too. And lightening. Great.
The MAN noticed some people running for cover but a majority of them were still dancing while the music still played. The procession he had been seeing was still going on, with only a slight difference of the murti being kept inside the protective chariot now.
Why is a small procession creating such a havoc? He asked himself.
Then, the cab inched forward and now he could see the actual commotion that was creating the traffic jam through the small space between the adjacent cars. Another fifty procession.
The MAN decided that there was no point in the music inside the cab now, so he requested the cab driver to switch it off. The driver complied.
And now he could hear and see everything, which brought back an onslaught of his childhood memories. As the cab inched forward a bit more, the MAN slid down his windows, finally agreeing to ignore the air-conditioning inside and basked in the memories that took him over.
The scene was truly beautiful.
The air was rented apart with different kinds of musical songs clashing with one another. While one song could be heard faintly, another would take its place stronger and more rhythmic than before.
Some people were cheering, others were dancing, some singing along, many doing all of it together. Wherever he saw, the procession was the same. The younger folks danced in front, in the rain in sloppy wet clothes while the older folks carried the chariot or fancily carved seats with the idol of Ganesha on it in the back, looking on with fascination. The band of musicians seemed to be oblivious to the rain or the traffic jam that was created by them.
The MAN also noticed a huge truck in front. Surrounding the truck was a load of people. It seemed like a large scale version of all the procession behind it. As the cab sped ahead, finally making a difference in movement, the humungous version of Ganesha came into view. It was the biggest idol the MAN had ever seen.
The idol was adorned with a golden crown, jewels of different kinds and ornaments sparkling along with the thunder overhead. It was protected too, by a chariot’s umbrella and it was clearly well lit. It was easily the best of them all.
And the music. Instrumental versions of Old Bollywood songs played on the huge speakers in front of the truck. Kids danced in the rain, even those that weren’t a part of any processions.
Before he knew it, the MAN found tears trickling down his cheek. He wiped them away silently, checking if the cab driver had seen them. Of course, the cab driver didn’t even look behind.
It reminded him of his own childhood. In a sudden flash of images, he saw his parents, he saw his brothers and siblings, and he saw his cousins and relatives… He saw everyone.
What seemed like a lifetime ago, he had been once a part of such a procession. He had been always the youngest one and would dance with his cousins in front. The younger aunts and uncles would also dance with them while his parents and elder relatives would carry their idol from behind, whilst keeping a keen eye on the kids.
The MAN remembered claiming loudly, “Ours is the best one!” to everyone and anyone who would hear. It had surely been true. His own great-uncle had owned a shop where they sold the best idols in the city at Dadar, Mumbai and he remembered choosing the prettiest, most colourful idols of them all with his siblings. It was the one time he had been in agreement with his cousin. It was the one time his elder cousins had ever listened to his opinions.
The MAN smiled at that image.
As the cab sped through the city, the MAN basked in the light. The heavy downpour had transformed into a light drizzle now and the lightening had almost stopped. Empty thunder clapped now and then but it too was a few ‘Mississippis’ apart now.
The MAN was looking at the idols as he sped through the city. Each idol was different, and each idol beautiful. Each idol, the MAN realized, was intricately crafted and painted on beautifully. He saw the procession progress at various traffic lights and realized quite suddenly something.
He thought back to a particular year of the procession of his own Ganesh idol. He remembered how of all the days, those five days had been the only days he would surely see his cousins.
He recollected that as time moved on, the relatives decreased. The older ones died, the younger ones turned into the older ones and the kids grew up. Joint families often could not stand the test of times, the MAN thought, and as the family split into smaller ones, he saw them less and less until he too moved abroad.
But he remembered the Ganesh Chaturthi day. Everyone, the lost cousins, the busy relatives and even the conservative senior members of the family would huddle around the idol as they carried it through the city. Another smile adorned the MAN’s face and the cab driver noticed it this time.
“We are nearly there, saar” he said in his heavy accent.
“I know,” said the man simply as he realized the one important lesson a simple cab ride had taught him: never forget your roots.
He realized how his busy life had given him a plethora of problems like depression, stress and sadness and also how his job had given him a lifetime of illnesses along with the money. He also remembered how with his job, he had forgotten, for a while, who he really was and where he really was from.
With a jolt of realization, the MAN got out of his cab with the luggage and knocked on his door as the cab sped away behind him.
He was home. The MAN was finally home. And for the first time since his move to the US, the MAN was free of all the problems.
The door opened to a scene of his family; the same family who had grown apart from him, huddled together around the murti they had just brought into their home. He smiled and hugged each of them and he had never felt better.
As always, if any of it made you smile, laugh, frown or giggle like a little baby, comment share and like! To be up-to-date with my other posts, give a like to my Facebook page and follow on Twitter if you use it! Any images used are either taken from Google Images or from my own personal collection, unless stated otherwise. Contact me if you want it removed.