Most festivals irrespective of religion are these days scrutinised for the impact they have on environment. Ganesh Chaturthi is one such festival. Environmentalists say that the plaster of paris and toxic paints used in making Ganesha idols, when immersed in lakes and pond harm the environment.
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But this unique celebration at National College grounds in Jayanagar was not merely environment friendly but also encouraged the use of cycles which is one of the most humble and powerful solutions to the grave environmental problems we face today.
RideACycle Foundation (RAC-F), organised a cycle race on the occasion of Ganesha Chaturti. With 73 participants in various categories for Junior, Primary, Middle, High school and college students, the fun festival drew a large audience of friends and relatives of participants and many curious onlookers.
Media soon picked up on this and published the photographs. One photographer interpreted the dark glasses as a ‘Karunanidhi’ Ganesha. This and the arm design upset some people who called up the RAC-F organisers and strongly objected to the plan.
The organisers then dropped the plan of having the cycle Ganesha and instead went ahead with a regular Ganesha idol kept on a cycle seat. They performed a puja and immersed the idol in Yediyur lake at the end of the day.
Initiated by Murali H R and Pradeep B V of RAC-F, the event got support from Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) and Ramanashree Resorts, apart from individuals who donated funds.
Decathlon Stores provided six bicycles at a highly subsidized price which were given as the prizes to the school students. College students got gift coupons as prizes.
The half a dozen BTwin bikes from Decathlon decorated the footpath besides the National College grounds. The smallest of the bikes – a little pink bike had a Ganesha idol in its pillion seat.
A few enthusiastic children arrived as early as 8 AM for the 9 AM event. A couple of kids did wheelies flaunting their skills with the cycles.
The time trials began with the few children and volunteers present.
But soon word spread, some getting their friends and siblings, and by 4 PM, we had quite a crowd with a few children still waiting for their ‘time trials’ to be done. Kids who had already completed their trials in the morning were eagerly waiting to know if they were selected for the finals. Some of them kept peeping into the list of timings and pestering us to know the results.
Most of the children present for the races don’t cycle to school for obvious reasons. There’s hardly any space left on the road for kids to cycle safely.
Nevertheless, the race for college boys was conducted outside the grounds, amidst cars and other motor vehicles. There was quite a crowd cheering for the participants and the race was well contested.
There was another bunch of children from Born Free Art School (a special school for street, working children) from Austin Town. They were there not just for the joy of cycling or winning, but that they really needed the cycles. A cycle would make them mobile so they could, for example, reach their dance classes a little early, and reach home early too.
Parisara Ganapathi is an initiative that urged people to avoid purchasing POP idols and instead go for unpainted mud or clay idols or if painted, purchase those painted with natural colours. B G Srinivas, the person behind the initiative along with Youth for Seva, an NGO, worked for the cause of a green Ganesha Chaturthi.
The team held presentations, organized a Jatha, talked to religious leaders, video-documented the making of clay/mud idols and held a press conference to raise awareness. For next year’s festival, they plan to reach out to idol dealers, school children and organize sales of eco-friendly Ganesha idols.
That was the reason Gauri was there. And Malleshwari (Mala) too. Mala finally won a Btwin Rockrider for herself and was in a hurry to leave, not because she was excited about her cycle but because her mother had already called twice and wanted to know what was taken her so long to reach home. It was 6:00 pm then. I managed to ask her if she would use her own bike to school now, instead of borrowing from her cousin Manju, and she said no. I was surprised.
Vidhya (part of Bornfree and Mala’s adopted mother) later updated me about how Mala was rescued from her village and how they have managed to send her to school. Mala did not want to risk taking her new Rockrider to school as "it was a geared cycle and people might steal it". So, she would continue to use her borrowed cycle. Gauri came second in the same category but I am sure they will share the ‘geared cycle’.
Sadly, there were very few girls – I could count them on one hand. Still a long way to go.