As I walked past the market a week before Ganesha chaturthi, a wayside seller was bringing out from his shed large idols that he had not been able to sell the previous year, and was ‘touching up’ the paint, to put it on sale again. He had a few more ‘leftovers’, large and small, inside the shed, waiting to be ‘recycled’. I chatted him up, and got confirmation that these were indeed ‘leftovers’.
When I was a child, each family fashioned its own clay images of Ganesha, with the children of the household enthusiastically fetching some clay and moulding it into a rotund torso. A conical blob stuck on top became the head, clay rolled into cylindrical lengths and placed at the base of the torso became the legs, while another tubular piece became the trunk. Mustard or other dark seeds pushed into the ‘face’ became the eyes, and pieces of broomstick (or broken glass bangle bits) inserted into the wet clay on either side of the trunk became the tusks – and there He was, our own pot-bellied Ganesha, created with our own hands.
We made an umbrella out of tissue paper and broomsticks and stuck it at the back, held upright anchored in a blob of wet clay placed behind the idol. None of these ingredients cost money, but the thrill of ‘creating’ something out of a lump of clay, was an important part of the festivities.
Today, no one, not even children, have the time for making Ganeshas. Why bother when one can buy them off the shelves at the market? Painted Ganeshas large and small. Lined up along the roads for sale. The unsold ones get wrapped in plastic and put away till the next year’s festival. Even discounted as bargain offers – one roadside seller accosted me with the pathetic cry: "Going cheap, amma. You won’t find another at this price. The person for whom I made this one cancelled his order… "
So this is what even the Gods have come to. They may have a better finish than those we made at home as children, but there was magic in turning a mere blob of wet mud into a podgy, elephant headed figure, using just one’s fingers and a bit of water to smoothen the surface. It was a time for hilarity when we watched the expressions that one could come up with, by just turning the trunk this way or that, or shifting the ‘eyes’.
Siblings vied with each other in decorating the umbrella or adding details. And there were no unsold, ‘left over’ deities. Immersed into the nearest lake (or even a bucket of water, if there was no water body nearby) the clay returned to the earth, with no artificial colours or chemicals to worry about either In an increasingly commercialised world, even the Gods, it seems, are no longer immune from market forces.⊕