My earliest memory of Ganesh Chaturthi, is when I was a child, living in Hindu Colony. First and foremost, Ganesh Chaturthi meant school holidays for us, children. Secondly, the delicious sweets prepared by my mother. And last but not the least, the 10 days of celebrations in the Colony, which meant different entertainment programs, competitions which were topped by the Orchestra on the last day. The Colony preparations started at least one to two months prior, when volunteers used to go from house to house to collect donations from everyone. Then 15 days prior, the construction of the mandap used to start. The place for the mandap was usually the Bhagini Samaj ground in the third lane of the Colony but I remember it being constructed in the garden alongside the railway tracks, for maybe one or two years. We children used to enjoy playing under the mandap canopy, first because it was some novelty for us, once a year, and it used to provide shade against sunlight or rains. The smell of bamboo and wood was pleasant too. We used to enjoy playing hide and seek on the stage, especially during the afternoon hours, when there were not much activities going on, except for preparations for the evening programmes. The celebrations formally started with the welcoming procession of the Elephant God, which was usually accompanied by traditional Maharashtrian lejhim dancers dancing enthusiastically along the road. We watched the procession from our 2nd floor balcony, but as it went inside the lane, we children used to immediately go down and join the procession. How the big idol was removed from the truck and then installed in its designated place in one corner of the mandap, was something which cannot be explained but to be experienced firsthand. The rest of the day was spent in prayers, aartis and bhajans but for us children, the real fun started in the evening when we started awaiting with bated breath, for the clock to strike 9.00 or 9.30 pm., which used to be the scheduled time for the Marathi dramas to start. That reminds me, just 1-2 days prior to the 10 day celebrations to start, we used to receive the Mandal booklet which was filled with the names of major sponsors, but more critically, it had the entire 10 day entertainment program and competition schedule. Once this booklet landed in the house, all of us including parents, were enthusiastically searching for the pages where the entire schedule was printed. Then I remember waiting for my mother and father to give their expert comments on, which out of all the dramas, was the most promising one, so that they could plan their evening activities like preparing and having dinner, so as to see a particular drama from the very beginning. This was so, since they did not have so many holidays like us, and hence could make time, only for the best dramas. But no such restrictions for us, hence we awaited the dramas on all days. Huge jute mattresses were used to cover the bare ground and people started arriving for the dramas, almost half an hour before. And usually the drama started late, never at the designated time, at least in the initial years when there were no restrictions on the time till when, a social program could go on. So I have experienced many of the dramas starting even after 10.15 pm when the scheduled time was 9.30 pm. And then the dramas, divided into minimum three parts, could go on till 2.30 am or thereabouts. But no one complained since everyone had time to spare, not like today, where people are just rushing from one place to another, without savouring the “now moment”, the present. I for one, enjoyed this late night schedule since it was the only time, when one did not have to worry for next day school and even the parents were a little flexible. The wait for the drama to start, piqued our curiosity, where they literally used temple bells to indicate the start of the drama. While watching the drama, I used to get totally immersed into the flow, the use of lighting and sound, seducing me to get totally involved in the proceedings on the stage. Most of the big names of Marathi drama, like Vijaya Mehta, Dr. Shriram Lagoo, Ashok Saraf, Laxmikant Berde, Nana Patekar, Bhakti Barve, and many others, have graced the Hindu Colony Ganeshotsav with their presence.
The Orchestra was one which attracted the maximum crowds, and people from the surrounding areas in Dadar and Matunga, used to rush at least 2-3 hours prior to the scheduled start. And the start of the orchestra was accompanied by great cacophony and whistling, on the part of the audience. For the next 3 hours we were transported to the world of Hindi film music and mimicry was something looked forward to, during the intervals.
While these entertainment programs had their extraordinary pull on the masses, the various competitions attracted us children to take part in painting, handwriting, essay writing, carrom, chess, et al. One evening was dedicated to fancy dress competition, where more than the children, the parents were extra enthusiastic to push their children to perform. I remember winning prizes in handwriting and painting, which enabled me to flaunt my prizes in front of relatives, who used to frequently drop in, in those days. The prizes were no great shakes, like plastic tiffin boxes and fruit bowls, but in those days, they satisfied childhood cravings for recognition.
For a few years, there were open air movies too, which were enjoyed on hastily put up white cloth screens, and the clarity a long way off, from today’s digital quality. Still, they were enthusiastically welcomed and someone passing before the projector was loudly shooed off.
So friends, I hope you too enjoyed the Ganeshotsav, with equal fervour and gaiety.