Friday, September 28, 2007

The Ganpati Trance & Team India Dance

Its an interesting time of the year to touch down in Mumbai. Particularly if you are coming in from America, a nation gripped by paranoia, fear and mild depression. For reasons ranging from Al Qaeeda to various financial excesses of the recent past. Yes, I was there on 9/11, my third anniversary trip, though I didn’t make it to Ground Zero on that day.

And you land in Mumbai where life seems to be one constant party. The annual Ganesh Chaturthi festival is on in full swing. Brightly decorated pandals (mostly jutting right onto the already choked streets) blare loud music as devotees line up for their darshans. There are several `immersion' days in the 10-day festival, each with a crippling effect on the city's logistics.

And there is the big one, the day most people stay at home anyway. More ear pounding music and street dances accompany this massive exercise that commences late afternoon and goes onto the early hours of next day. The time-band is not driven by astrological reasons, rather the traffic jams of idol laden trucks that await their turn to send the Ganpati idol on his last journey.

The Cricketers Arrive

Innovations abound. I saw one truck built like a cruise liner. So the lord now travels in style or was it the mandal's (the group behind the effort) fervent wish to go on a Caribeean cruise or something. What was the guy thinking ? I swear I heard trance playing on at least two ocassions. With accompanying strobe lights, all on a moving truck with a generator in tow. Yes there was a Ganpati idol too.

And finally Team India has arrived to a thunderous welcome. Driving into work in central Mumbai, I marvel at the throngs of people on the road to see the 30-km victory march into south Mumbai’s Wankhade stadium. Surely all these people have better work to do then to ogle at a bunch of guys who got lucky in the last over. As I reach my office, I realize I am gripped by the frenzy too. In ten minutes, bags have been dumped and a colleague and I are back at Worli Junction waiting for the ‘boys’ to arrive. I look around and see that the traffic has come to a standstill everywhere.

This is not exactly a vantage viewpoint. Its raining intermittently and we are not carrying protection. We try and squeeze under the occasional umbrella that springs open in front of us, smiling sheepishly at our temporary benefactors. After all, we are all united in our purpose.

Success Has Many Fathers

Earlier in the day, I read with amazement the number of advertisements released to commemorate the Indian cricket team’s victory over Pakistan. National carrier Air-India has booked entire pages to congratulate a handful of team members. Predictably, the advert has a photograph of the smiling aviation minister and a line which seems to suggest that Air-India had a role to play in their success.

How, I wonder. The papers said they flew Emirates, Dubai’s national carrier. I ask a colleague. Ah, they work for Air-India. At least on paper. I then discover that Indian Oil, another state-owned company, has also claimed a cricketer as its own. So has a private management school in Delhi. Later I read that the Air-India cricketers have received promotions too.

After a good half hour of rain, wind, no sun and several false alarms, the open bus carrying the cricketers comes into view. Most of them are standing on the open deck. The crowd erupts into a roar. A general surge begins and the constables who are posted precisely for this purpose weild their lathis. “Dhoni, Dhoni,” cry out the assembled.

Trance Becomes Dance

Dhoni, positioned in a Di Caprio-Titanic sort of way at the head of the deck is not looking at us though, he appears bored or is just dog tired. After all, he’s been at it for a good 20 km already. Yuvraj Singh is the most animated at this point and he even rattles his shoulders to the music. Another open truck with speakers blasting discotheque music is crawling ahead.

At this point, everything becomes seamless, the Ganpati trance and the cricketing dance began. Actually its simple, only a few hours have passed since the last idols were cast away. Mumbai city is throbbing with energy as one celebration flows into another. Stockmarkets are hitting new highs again so the moneymen are celebrating too. If you thought, all of this was happening only in Mumbai, you are wrong. This week, several business honchos from Mumbai are celebrating India@60, in New York.

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