Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Final Day of Ganesha Chaturthi - Part Four

I pulled into first gear and we assumed a slow pace on our pilgrimage to the river. The girls danced and the boys sang and broke coconuts. The older representatives of our clan smiled as they observed the younger generation heralding the New Year’s bounteous future while we walked slowly and deliberately forward. The end of the festival was not necessarily the end of our journey, but rather the journey itself. From our side street, we became a small rivulet of merriment that would join the main artery of the town’s celebrants.  It was a  constant stream of the faithful, the fanatics, and the indifferent; all setting aside personal motivations to engage in a slow and deliberate procession to the water. Our family’s retinue blended into the larger parade and added to its genetic make-up one of the larger clay idols to be dunked into the river that day. The sun was setting and the moon, which I always was taught was wretched, was soon to appear.
            It took us about forty-five minutes to reach the ocean side. I pulled onto the crest of the beach and we undid the statue of the god, which was to be, then, carried into the water. The family swarmed around the truck - many hands reaching and acting as one to lift the holy idol off the truck and into the air.  The surrounding crowd of fellow believers broke into a fresh refrain of the holy mantra to intensify the experience of having the Lord Ganesh thrust into the waters. 
I let them carry out this important task without me – another thing that I had never before done in my entire life. I leaned against the hood of the truck, watching my family work as a  team to lift the heavy flawed clay statue - chanting and singing as they prepared to commit the final act of Ganesha Chaturdashi by immersing their god into the water. Some of my cousins motioned for me to take a space on the palate and heft him into the air for the final leg of his journey home, but I couldn’t do it. I saw the moon start to peek over the trees on the far side of the river.
            “Don’t forget that we must never look at the moon, Razak. For it is the enemy of the Lord Ganesh and we must treat it as an apostate.” Prakash Priyani, our Brahmin, had quietly crept up to me.  “We must view the moon as one who has left believing in the Lord.” He wore his red silk robe and a yellow shawl. His fingers and palms were stained red from the sandalwood holy paint.  This had been an busy time for him as he had many statues of Ganesh to bless.
            “Hello, Brahmin.” I gave my mentor a small respectful bow. We watched as the Lord Ganesh wobbled above the heads of his adherents as they took the first steps from the truck towards the water. I bit my lip and a small surge of adrenalin coursed through my stomach, making me exceptionally aware of my breathing. The reality of the situation was becoming clear and my indignant projections were dissolving.
“We haven’t seen you from Shukla Chaturti until now. Is all well with you?” Prakash smiled in away that didn’t reach his entire mouth that resulted in putting others at ease. Around us, the crowd gave a happy murmur as the bearers of Ganesh gained a confident hold on their statue. A renewed chant was struck and every one in earshot sang with broad smiles of flashing teeth.
            “Well, I have had a very busy month at the dig. We found some . . . things.”
            “Really? What things?”
            “I don’t …think that I can go into it right now.” This was the complete opposite of what I had planned. This was supposed to be the moment that I displayed the contents of the bags and demanded answers, but the economy of the situation was overwhelmingly acute.
            “Razak, you have always been interested in science and the correctness of the world. But, remember that there is only one science that is important – the science of the Spirit. How can one look at an object in this world and hope to understand another world? Our senses and the objects of our senses are constantly changing form and in their relation to each other. We must put our faith only in the Lord Ganesh.” He gave me that confident smile, which before had always been a touchstone for me in the crafting of my worldview. Today, that smile didn’t give me the same comfort that I was used to, but it was also one that I that didn’t want to disappear. Prakash folded his hands in front of him. “Did you ask for his blessing today?”
“Brahmin, I no longer want the Lord to worry about my obstacles. I think I need to handle this world on my own.”
            The men in my family had entered the water with a final push that evoked a satisfied low moan from everyone. Prakash looked at me with a silence that penetrated the noise of the crowd.  “I don’t know if you realize how real the Lord Ganesh is. He will operate in your life in a way that you cannot understand. Let him work hand in hand with you and guide you.”, he said, closing his eyes in finality.
                        “Prakash, you have always given me good advice and taught me the importance of having him in my life. But I need you to know that I believe in Ganesh more than anybody. And, pardon me for saying, but even you, Brahmin.”
            The Lord Ganesh had been awkwardly tipped in the water, instead of the slow deliberate immersion required by the science. My brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews were all waist deep in the foamy water, clapping their hands and chanting together. Prakash watched the spectacle with his half-smile and a small shake of the head. If I was going to confront him, it would have to be now.
Ijaya, my niece, came running out of the water, hair soaked and laughing. She saw me by the truck talking to Prakash and dry as old bones.  “Uncle, what happened? You missed the ceremony.”
I hurt myself giving her a dismissive nod and she gave me quick frown and went back to her friends.
Prikash gave me a fatherly tap on the arm.
             “Razak, your faith has always guided you. Remember that Ganesh is the Lord of Intelligence and he is married to Reason and Spirit. You will make the right decisions.”
            He gave me a another tap on the arm and moved into the crowd.
             It was another hour at the beach before my family decided to return home. They all walked back on their own without any particular procession, but together all the same.  The other crowds finally dispersed from the waterside after all the idols had been immersed with a few meditative stragglers. I stayed and watched the moon rise high into the clear night. I smiled as a boy ran by holding a grey balloon twisted into the shape of an elephant head. I sat on the water’s edge, listening to the jubilation spread throughout the town. The loudest music I was certain was from the gargantuan stack that I passed earlier. There was something about that discombobulated structure inspired its adherents to dance longer than any other.
 I stayed out there all night, watching the moon ascend and descend on to the water’s distant horizon, waiting for the last moment of moonset. When the moon started to vanish from the sky and became halfway hidden by the horizon, I opened the bed of the truck and removed the two coconut sacks. Inside the bag, in a dusty jumble, were the bones that had made me late for Ganesha Chaturdashi. Pulling each bone from the bag and unwrapping them from the protective newspaper, I lay them on the open flap of the truck bed. All of the bones I had brought to the river side were from a single skeleton, although, that may not be clear to the average archaeologist that might have seen me remove and unwrap no less than three sets of arms. My tests at the site revealed them to all have the same genetic makeup. The DNA that sat slowly decaying in these bones that would have marked it as, at the very least a genetic anomaly, was also found in the skull, which I had put in the other bag. It was the skull of an elephant. It’s right tusk predictably broken and found in it’s right hand.  These were the ancient bones of the Remover of Obstacles, the Lord of Beginnings- long dead and useless.

            I collected each bone and threw it into the ocean as the moon disappeared completely. The Brahmin could go on living according to his science, but I had discovered the end of both science and truth, What is science but a form of religion? And what is religion, but a form of science? Ultimate answers are sought in both and I no longer had a need or want for those answers. A loud powerful laugh from the revelers pierced the night. As the waves pulled the fragile bones deeper into the ocean waters, I felt a burden had been lifted from my shoulders that I hadn’t expected. The muscles in my neck released a tension that I never realized was there. The morning was approaching and the celebration still raged in the town. The black obelisk of music continued to pulsate with deep bass frequencies that I became increasingly attuned to as the moment was crystallizing in a way I hadn’t foreseen. Hungry, I grabbed the coconut from the seat of the truck and cracked it with a rock hammer. The hairy orb broke into a myriad shards. With my left hand, I picked up a fleshy curved piece, smelling the its happy sweetness. I bit into its flesh and a pain coursed through my mouth. With my right hand, I removed the shell of the coconut meat and with it came a broken tooth. I closed my hand over the tooth and held it firm. The pain and the my happiness complemented each other  as the music from afar became deeper and urgent and I thought about the good things of the day. With the coconut in my left and my tooth in my right, I was overcome with the desire to dance to the music from the distance.. I brought my right hand to my chest and my left hand to the morning sky. I drew my right leg up to balance on my left for a short moment and then  I moved to the music that would propel me from now on.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Final Day of Ganesha Chaturthi - Part Three

It seems that this year Ashok had made a half-hearted effort to get the scientific elements of the statue right. The left hand raised to the sky in blessing. In his right, he held a broken tusk. A flag waved above him with his mouse companion emblazoned on it. Last year, I would have been over the moon about this. I took in the clay statue of Ganesh on his throne. He had the head of an elephant, but his eyes were as penetrating as only a man’s could be. On every statue and idol that I had ever seen of him, the eyes that stared out were always deeply personal. I walked up to the idol and I stared into his eyes. Red sandalwood dripped off his forehead like blood as evidence that Prakash had blessed him. Of course, it would be too large and immodest to be effective for him, who no doubt tried to deliver Ashok a lecture on the impropriety of its largeness. How could you pray for blessings and communicate with the Lord Ganesh if you are grunting and pushing and pulling, due to the spectacle of the image? Simplicity allows the mind to focus and opens the channel to heaven.
 One of my nephews opened the gate on the back of the truck and tried to remove the white sacks in the back of the truck.
“No, no! Leave them!” I closed the gate and put the stabilizing pins on the rim of the pick-up’s bed, ready to slide into the receiving holes on the idol’s palate.
“But you have coconuts. We counted 400 coconuts smashed today already!” Only one coconut was needed to release one’s karma, but the young men were always vigorous in their desire to break coconuts for bragging rights of the day.
 “Those bags are mine. It’s time to put the Lord Ganesh on the back.”
            As we worked to secure the idol on the back of the truck, the rest of the family started the chant we all sang on Ananti.

“Ganapathi Bappa Morya, Purchya Varshi Laukariya.”

   Oh father, Ganesh, come again early next year.

I had sung that so many times in my life, but it never  sounded as transparent in my ears as it did at that moment. The chant detached itself and floated away from the deepest part of my self – the secure place that once determined all my actions and gave me my sense of time and space. What was once a harbinger of good fortune now became an empty echo in an abandoned chamber. My recent discoveries broke the mold of reaction I had at hearing the chant of Ananti on this day in the light where once they had produced personal feelings of safety and goodwill.
Ganesh was hoisted up and installed to the top of the bed of the truck with the pallet screwed into the stabilizing pins.
Our signal to our family for readiness to the journey to the ocean triggered a wave of coconut destruction that littered the street with jagged shells and white meat. Everyone descended from the house to accompany me as I prepared to drive this massive profanity to the waterside. My nieces and their friends, who were all of an impressionable age, had matching orange and red saris that they wore for a coordinated dance - something they had pulled from one of the local cinemas, which they planned to do on the way to the beach.
“Uncle Razak! We were worried that you wouldn’t be here.” This was Ijaya, my fourteen-year old niece. Her face was made of pure innocence and unbreakable. I blushed with my own embarrassment at being absent. What possible answers did I have for her?
They had planned well; in fact they could think of nothing else for the past six months except how closely to the original version of their dance they could come to on Ananti Chaturthi. It was the first time they had ever tried to coordinate something together to represent our family. I thought about how upset they might have been if I didn’t return that day. They would probably remember these times well into their future.