Mumbai Memoir 111- The Glory of Mumbai- 400004
September witnesses Mumbai in its festive glory, as the streets make space for installing the idol of Lord Ganesha. During the Indian freedom struggle, it was the initiative of a Nationalist leader- Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who promoted public celebrations of indigenous festivals for creating the sentiment of unity and solidarity among people to fight against the colonial government . Every year I do my gratitude walk by visiting at least 11 publicly installed Ganesh idols.
This year I decided to find the root of this community-based celebration, and to my surprise I found it at walking distance away from where I reside in South Mumbai! Its at the Keshavji Naik Chawl, off Khadilkar Road, Girgaon, Mumbai 400004 (Pincode), where Mumbai’s first ever Ganesh Idol was installed in 1893, that encouraged public celebration of the Ganpati festival. In my exploration of the Keshavji Naik Chawl I took the opportunity to visit all the Ganesh idols that I could possible find in the Girgaon area of Mumbai.
As I explored every Ganesh idol in the lanes of Girgaon, I was recollecting all the memories of my experience with Girgaon life. I noticed the 2-3 storey housing system called ‘Chawls’, which still occupies 80% of the area. Even before my birth, my mom tells me, that my maternal grandparents use to live in Girgaon near Jaoba wadi but due to some crisis later they had to move to their native place. As a kid and a teenager I use to visit my friends & family in few of the chawls there.
I used to be amused of the close-knit feel of the chawl system, as I could sense as if 50 different families are living together like one extended family! Come sunshine or rain, the ‘extended families’ would be with each other, thus celebrating or mourning an occasion that mattered to them.
I have fond childhood memories, especially of Karel wadi (at the junction of Thakurdwar), where one of my Aatya (paternal aunt) use to live. Having taught at Bhavan’s College, Chowpatty, most of my students resided at Girgaon and it was a delight to wave a hand to them as the 103 number bus moved through Thakurdwar and Girgaon. Later in 2006 my first consulting room was situated at Parshuram wadi, near Gai Wadi and above all I am inspired by Nana Jagannath Shankarshet, who is a well-known philanthropist of yesteryears, who hailed from Girgaon and whose name honours the main road, that is the lifeline of Girgaon.
The Hindu mythology based elephant head-Lord Ganesha is the most favourite deity which the Mumbaikar’s bring home during this 10 day Ganesh festival. Like is the case with humans, the soul of every idol lies in its eyes. I managed to see the sparkle in the eyes of most of the big Ganpati idols of Chandan wadi, Gazdar street, Girgaon-cha Raja (King of Girgaon), Shyam building (near Girgaon church), Parshuram wadi, Khota-chi wadi, Mughbhat, Krantinagar and few little idols which were installed in certain chawls.
Individuals of different ages celebrate the festival in their own style and above all develop a sense of community by getting together and having spiritual fun. Some come for singing holy songs (bhajans), others participate in cultural functions or just get entertain. It was a unique sight to see a group of children playing the game PUBG and discussing their virtual adventures among each other in front of the Ganesh idol. It was also a delight to here a song on Girgaon! Here’s the link to hear the song ‘Girgaon Geet’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=culLWRphfl4
Though many people from Girgaon have migrated to the far suburbs of Mumbai and beyond, but they make it a point to visit their roots and thereby rekindle the cultural flame which lights their soul. Currently Girgaon is in the midst of massive change, as the Mumbai Metro (Line 3) underground work is in full swing. Traffic issues, dust and logistic issues has recently created chaos while commuting. But inspite of this, the ‘Girgaon’ spirit has not downscaled a bit, as the well-organized Ganpati festival here has certainly brought order in the chaos!
*Dedicating this article to all my Girgaon based friends, family, well-wishers & my students of Bhavan’s College, Chowpatty (both Girgaon’kars and non-Girgaon’kars too)