“Ganesha Chaturthi. For those of you who don’t know, its basically one of the many Christmases practicing Hindus celebrate. Its got all the important bits to make it a real live festival: food, bright flowers, food, vibrant sarees, food, reverberating-soul-cleansing music, food, prayer, food, and lastly and most importantly, this day is all about auspicious beginnings and celebrating the Remover of Obstacles, Lord Ganesha.
He’s well-known for his rotund belly and his humble steed, the mouse, and yes he’s famous for being wise beyond his years. He’s every mother’s dream, every father’s pride, and every first born’s role model. He’s the kind of older sibling you want to be. He’s patient, he’s forgiving, he knows just how to get you out of the ditch you dug yourself into. He’s a peaceful warrior, he’s a persuasive negotiator, he’s a total Vedic nerd, the Guru’s star pupil, a pursuer of knowledge dedicated to the improvement of humanity.
In short he’s basically got his life together. So we pray to him. Asking, clamoring, demanding, pleading, negotiating, begging, bartering (honestly though, what would he need from us?) for something. I’m sure he gets asked for all sorts of things…mostly good grades and direct entry into a stable job. Good beginnings in general.
I used to do that too. I used to ask for so many things as a child, of course Barbie dolls, cool things and new dresses made the cut. No prayers for family well-being, decent mental health as O Level approached, or even a simple word of gratitude. It took me a while to think about what I asked of him, and how I did it – hey, I was growing up!
Over time I began to thank him on a daily basis, once in the morning and before I slept. You know, counting my blessings and such. It felt good to think that I was one of the few people letting him know that he’s appreciated for all the good things in my life. So as I monitored my spiritual progress – and watched too many documentaries about religion and Indian culture – I realized that I needed to do more than just appreciate and respect a divine entity. I mean, greeting someone with a “Namaste” meant that I saw the God in them, so that automatically meant that everyone I met would be appreciated for whatever good things they chose to do. So I began to appreciate people’s good efforts however much I subconsciously disliked their existence. A few months into this spiritual regime I understood that its easy to lose one’s place on their own priority list when others come first. I became so consumed with the idea of putting others first, and looking at their sacrifices, that I overlooked my own. This stifling culture and its mores had taken their toll on teenage Me.
Noticing that I just played myself for long enough that others took my support and appreciation for granted, I stopped. I stepped back. Distance was everything now, because I had lost myself while trying to tether others in their sense of security. I pulled away from people, friends, family, my culture, my Gods – everything I had built myself on. This gradual receding tested every family tie, every friendship I held dear, leaving me spiritually broken. I didn’t seek divine intervention, nor did it seek to help me. In retrospect this was a foolish idea that could’ve wrecked important bonds, but what choice does one have when they need to rediscover their strengths and learn to appreciate themselves for a change?
I let it go. There was no more a promise of heaven or a the threat of hell. I was free! All of the consequences were mine to choose. I had lost a religion and now found the divine in everything I encountered. I didn’t want to return to the rules, the conventions, the restrictions religion imposed. I didn’t fear what the Gods would think. I was more afraid of what society would think if one of their own chose to leave – what would the Aunty next door say?!?
It took me some time to understand that they don’t count. Ganesha, society, family, friends, or that judgmental Uncle down the street. I was now at a stage where I enjoyed a life of being true to the ways of the Universe, and here’s why: whatever I threw to It came right back at me – and it certainly is more concrete than any idol I sought guidance from. So in the eyes of society, I am nothing like the model older sibling I was supposed to be praying to. Such a disappointment.”
This was being thought as I washed and polished the brass idol of Ganesha I had looked up to all my life. I literally had to look up because Gods are usually out of reach, and ours was seated on a portable brass throne on the fridge, shared with Goddess Laxshmi. My mother knew the war that I was waging against myself, and thankfully carried on with her hurricane cooking of a feast in respectful silence, breaking it only to tell me that I had to finish quickly and do the rangoli.
She once told me that people need to have a hard look at themselves every 10 years to make sure they’re on the right track. So I spent most of the auspicious day in deep introspection, which yielded nothing until the prayer was over and the food arrived.
As I ate my mother’s incredible Ganesha Chaturthi feast of sweet pongal, mosuranna, uddin vada, and that divine puliogare-with-a-bite, I knew where I stood.
One of my favorite memories is that of my grandfather telling me the Puranas, bits of the Vedas, some of the Mahabharata, and all of the Ramayana. For the last 20 years he’s made it seem like the Gods we look up to are just as human as us, because they made mistakes and fought and shamed and cowered away from their duties. No, I wasn’t ready to give up the culture I was raised in, because it would never leave me. So – and this is almost over, so hang in there – I figured that I would look up at the Gods and continue with life not by leaning on them, but rather by learning from their mistakes. I have the next 10 years to work on myself by learning from divine interventions that went wrong, and I’m glad to say that I’m looking forward to it.
I still don’t know what I believe in more, but this day was auspicious indeed. A solid beginning to self-repair.