The Unblind Side of Faith
Of celestial elephants & earthly humans…
Indians are generally hospitable. We love houseguests. Sometimes, even if the visitor is not a friend or a relative. We had one such guest last week. In fact, this guest has been coming to our home for the past two decades. He has made it his annual ritual. His stay duration has also increased. Originally, his presence didn’t make much difference to our life style. But now he has started interfering in our routine. We don’t complain. We are habituated now. And habituated ones seldom question…
The first time we kept Lord Ganesha during Ganesh Chaturthi was the year baby Misha arrived. He gave his blessings and departed the next day. Then we invited him again next year. Then again. Till, it became a tradition. The excitement would start right from the pickup. The two kids would fight for the choice of the idol. A consensus would be negotiated. The chosen deity would be blindfolded and brought home.
Over the years, the event got grander with colorful flowers, decorative props and flickering lights. His stay crawled up to full ten days. The Aartis got longer. A CD with religious hymns resonated thru the day. He became popular. The visitors flocked at odd hours for Darshan. The evenings became open-house dinners. Friends, socialites, maids, watchmen. He was surrounded by nonstop Prasad (sweets) offers. All devotees binged on the tempting treats. Even our diabetic dog transformed into a sneaking thief. The only two shying away would be the Lord and me.
For ten days, we forsake our religion of being nonreligious. No parties. No drinks. No Meat. Then the day of Visarjan arrives. Our luxury SUV comes out. And we bid adieu to our guest in a royal style. The family is momentarily crestfallen. They find it difficult to let go of the soil version of Shiva’s cuddly big baby. Well, almost everyone.
I am not into all this stuff. Rituals don’t do much for me. I just play along from sidelines. Except, this time around. For this year, my responsibilities increased. I had no choice. Halfway through the ten days, Ritu left for US. So the ceremonial onus fell on me. I rose to the occasion. Physically. Mentally, the frontline further aggravated my disbeliefs. The doubts overwhelmed my flickers of devotion. My thoughts raced even as I circled the final Aarti right before the immersion. The elephant-face deity riding a tiny mouse was posing some hard questions. I may have been habituated. But I needed answers.
Where is human rationality? He sees everything, yet why do we blindfold him during arrival? He is obese, yet why do we keep offering him sweets during his stay? He is loved, yet why do we take out processions to celebrate his departure? From arrival, to stay, to departure—all three stages of his brief journey are laden with a contradiction.
Our Visarjan got over, but my internal debate did not. There was traffic. Parade after parade. Sea of colors. Majestic idols, tiny idols. Big convoys, small convoys. Some devoted, some solemn. Some dancing, some singing. Each procession followed by Lord Ganesha’s idol. Sometimes on a chariot, sometimes on a vegetable trolley. And in this chaos, resided all my mystical answers!
You see, the processions were impressive, but where was the leader? Ganesha. Right at the back of each marching troop! Allowing his team to lead him. No different than how he let his followers blindfold him when he was first taken home. He understood that if today’s followers have to become tomorrow’s leaders, sometimes they need an opportunity to lead the leader. Even if the leader already knows the way. A good leader doesn’t just guide the followers. He occasionally reverses roles to teach both leadership and followership.
Satisfied with the learning, I turned my attention back to the action. The processions were many. The marchers could see Ganpatis of other processions. Many of them were a lot grander than their own. Yet everyone seemed content with own idol, dancing with own team. Satisfied like Ganpati. You can tempt Ganpati with as many sweets as you wish in offerings, but does he partake any of them? Gratification doesn’t come by shunning away. Gratification is achieved when we are exposed to aspirations, yet are at peace with self. A good leader shouldn’t just energize his team towards lofty goals. He should also illustrate the power of contentment even as we pursue our aspirations.
Now doubly pleased, I marveled at the colorful sea. Why were they celebrating? There is nothing celebratory about bidding farewell to a piece of your heart. These processions would be a lot more meaningful while bringing Ganpati home for the first time. I tried to visualize, but the imagination was lackluster. Because the start point of processions was same, but everyone’s destination was different! Clearly, the thrill didn’t reside at the target, but in journeying together towards a common destination. A good leader shouldn’t get obsessed with milestones. Win or lose, if the journey has been united towards a common destination, it is a reason for celebration.
In the end, the loved idol merges with water, one of the five elements of earth. It is a logical end for each idol, each leader. But the human spirit bounces back; the next year’s Chaturthi is again celebrated with equal vigor. Why? Because this festival was not about Lord Ganesha, but the team. Ganesha understands it, as does a good leader. Both of them know well they are just metaphors.
When Lokmanya Tilak turned Ganesh Chaturthi into a public event in 1893, his sole objective was to unite people towards the common cause of country’s freedom. Today, Lord Ganesha is on everyone’s lips. We hardly remember Lokmanya. He faded away into oblivion after his work was done. His work lives, his memory barely. Oddly, that is what makes him one of the greatest leaders that ever blessed our motherland.