The phone rang and Priyanka woke up flustered as she had a late night and now a call at this untimely hour. Half sleepy she picked her mobile and the screen flashed ‘Ma Calling’. Suddenly her heart sank and sleep vanished. She glanced at the watch it blinked 2:42 am. She murmured a quick prayer before receiving the call.
She heard her mother’s very frightened voice whisper “Your Papa”
Priyanka’s eyes swelled and a tear rolled down her cheek “Your Papa had a heart attack” her mother quivered
“We are taking him to the Sai Ganesh Clinic, come fast” And she hurriedly hung up. Priyanka could not move, she was momentarily still with fear. Her brown eyes watered, her hair ruffled, her round face was eclipsed with fear. A few minutes later she woke her husband, Samir and informed him of the situation. They hastily started to get ready and leave.
Priyanka stayed with her husband in the same city as her parents, but in a different suburb. It would take about 45 minutes by car on any day with heavy traffic to cover the distance. Sai Ganesh Multi Speciality Clinic was at the corner of the street where her parents stayed.
While Samir turned on the ignition all sorts of unruly thoughts cropped up in Priyanka’s mind.
“Why? How bad? Will I get to see my dear Papa, one last time? Will there be doctors in the clinic?”
And finally “Why Now?”
It was the time of the year when Ganesh Chaturthi was joyfully celebrated with great pomp for ten days and today was the 8th day. They had Ganeshji at her mother’s place for 5 days and all the glorious celebrations had gone pretty well. She believed in Ganeshiji completely and was resolute that Bappa would not let anything bad happen to her father. She continued to pray frantically to Bappa for her father, on the way to the clinic.
It took them about 20 minutes to reach the clinic, at that hour. Priyanka swiftly rushed inside the clinic. Their next door neighbor, Sharma Uncle met her at the entrance and just said “First Floor, ICU”, and she took the elevator
She saw her mother, who was suddenly looking very old. Her grieving mother saw Priyanka and let her restrain go and broke down sobbing uncontrollably in Priyanka’s arms. All the emotions she was holding back till now gave way and the tears just flowed. Priyanka shed tears with her mother, but Priyanka had to muster up courage, which she didn’t have, to reassure her mother. Samir reached just then and headed straight to the ICU.
He reappeared from the ICU and said “The doctors say he is stable now but the next 48 hours are very critical”
“Means?” quipped Priyanka
“He had a massive heart attack. If he gets yet another in next 48 hours, the body will not be able to bear it” muttered Samir putting a comforting hand on Priyanka’s shoulder.
It was Priyanka’s turn to be weak, she cried feebly in Samir’s arms and Samir hugged his wife tight. “We believe in the healing power of prayer Priya and that’s all Papa needs now” he whispered.
That morning, a few winding lanes away from there, Narendra Patil was busy supervising the lavish preparation for the immersion of the pandal’s majestic Ganesh idol, tomorrow, the 10th and final day of the celebrations.
This was the 25th year of the pandal and the final journey of Bappa Ganesh had to be grand.
Narendra was the secretary of the pandal for the year, and he had taken it upon himself to make the silver jubilee celebration the most magnificent and memorable one.
“All the flowers on the truck have to be saffron” he reminded, thoughtfully. “Start the decoration tomorrow early morning, the flowers need to look pristine and smell good”.
“All in the organizing committee and members of the pandal will wear crisp turbans- men and women both, men in dark red women in gentle pink” he continued.
“The lights on the truck will be on four poles -2 inward lighting the grand idol of Bappa, so the darshan can happen from far and 2 on the procession” he instructed
“Where is the music DJ fellow?” he screamed in between
“He has to still put up the speakers on the truck” he continued.
The music had to be the core of the procession, as that would surge the devotees to continue dancing in the procession and also attract attention to the entrouge.
The DJ was instructed to ensure foot tapping loud music and to bring all current chart-buster songs along, the dancing should not stop, the music should not stop, come what may.
At the front of the procession there were eight people playing the big bass drums and a group of young school children from the vicinity doing the traditional folk dance, adding fervor to the procession.
Narendra Patil’s reputation of being the biggest and the earnest devotee was at stake and then it was Bappa’s procession the ‘Lord of the People’, ‘Annihilator of Obstacles ’, it had to be grand.
Sai Ganesh Multi-specialty had a small idol of Ganeshji in one idyllic corner at the reception. Priyanka sat there with her hands folded in her lap praying to Ganeshji for her ailing father. She looked around and realized there were others too, praying for their loved ones – a mother for her eleven year old son, burnt in fire crackers last night; a husband for her eight month old young pregnant wife, suddenly got into labor; a sister praying for her bother critically wounded in a ghastly road accident. She prayed for others too. In times of misfortune, one seems to easily connect with strangers and empathise with their hardships, and innately hoping others would with theirs too. We hope they too would pray for our sick, and hoping that someone’s prayers might heal our loved ones. And a good karma may be instantly redeemed by the well being of our loved one.
Almost 24 painful hours for Priyanka and 24 anxious hours for Narendra Patil had elapsed and the tenth day of Ganesh Chathurthi dawned, the day of immersion of Ganesh idols. Priyanka’s father’s condition was stable and with every passing hour she was convinced the ‘Annihilator of Obstacles’ was clearing the hurdles, big and small, in the path of her father’s recovery.
She had not left the hospital since she had arrived yesterday. It helped that her mother’s house was just a few blocks away. Samir had been doing all the running around and was there for everything – taking care of her aggrieved mother, meeting the doctors, arranging the medicines, getting home cooked fresh food for everyone, praying with her and continuously assuring her all is going to be fine.
But all was not fine, at about 10.00 am Samir came to Priyanka and informed in a fearful tone “the pulse is going down, he may slip into coma”. The fear and anxiety that seemed to have eased, came back. She felt completely helpless. She just clenched her fists harder, as if to signify the intensity of her prayers.
The pundits at the pandal had identified that the auspicious time for immersion ends just before midnight at 11.56 pm.
“So what time should we start?” asked the truck owner
“Depends on the route we are taking” answered a member
“We should cover all the major lanes and immerse the idol at the lake ahead of the Sai Ganesh Clinic” declared Narendra
“So we will need to start as early as 12.00 noon” calculated the truck owner
“So be it, we are in no hurry. The procession of this grand scale should take that much time. And the more people take darshan, the more blessings we get from Bappa.” Narendra said it with a final authority.
The immersion processions in the city had already started. Small pandal idols, small housing society idols and a few idols at home, had started the immersion journey early to avoid the traffic, the crowd and the waiting at immersion ramps.
Not with much fanfare but no less zest, these devotees took the idols to the nearby immersion places and immersed the idols chanting “pudhchya varshi lavkar yaa” – a request to Bappa to come back early next year. With a heavy heart and teary eyes people were bidding adieu to their favorite elephant – headed God.
A teary eyed Priyanka was waiting for a miracle. The noise of the immersion processions could be heard in the clinic. She knew Bappa was leaving and she was convinced Bappa will not leave without curing her father.
As the day progressed- the noise of the processions, the beating of the drums, the blaring speakers and the shouting of revellers kept increasing. A few decibels with every passing hour.
The clinic had shut all the windows, doors and other openings but the rising noise level just could not be limited.
“Is it this noisy every year?” Priyanka asked Rekha, who was the receptionist at the clinic, She knew Rekha from her school days.
“Oh wait, it gets worse as the day goes, once the idols from big pandals are out, the traffic increases and the processions move slowly and the blaring is continuous” replied Rekha.
“Actually at the corner, all the streets converge here to proceed to the lake, hence it gets very noisy and crowded” she added thoughtfully.
Priyanaka got worried. How would the patients cope with such high decibel levels?
Priyanaka decided to check on her father. Priyanka went in the ICU and sat next to her father’s bed. He wanted to say something but it was inaudible, partly due to the oxygen mask on his face, largely due to the noise from outside. Priyanka just sat near the bed and gestured him to remain quiet and take rest.
The noise from the processions was blaring and kept increasing. Every thump of the drum was now reverberating in the clinic building.
“Is playing the music so loudly the only way to gauge our faith in Ganeshji” she thought out aloud sitting at the reception. The statement was received with some helpless smiles and some indifferent shrugs.
She decided she had to something. She walked up to the reception and asked Rekha “Is’nt there a government directive to not play music near schools, hospitals and some other places?”
“Yeah but who follows”
“Why don’t you complain?”
“We tried a couple of years ago, but to no avail, then the authorities marked our place and throughout the year found reasons to hassle us citing some law or the other ” said Rekha in a helpless tone.
Suddenly the noise from outside increased multi fold. It was now not possible to converse in the clinic. “What must all the patients be going through” thought Priyanka.
The noise of the big drums followed by the blast from the big speakers was actually deafening. The panes of the windows were now trembling. The beats of the drums felt as if someone was banging a hammer on the walls of the clinic.
Priyanaka rushed out. The street was chaotic with the frenzy of devotees and people jostling and pushing for a final glimpse of the idol and to add to it the blaring speakers and the thumping drums. The procession of the pandal of Narendra Patil was visible not very far, approaching towards the clinic. Priyanka had to do something, she pushed her way towards the procession.
She came near the procession and stood in front. But the crowd just tossed her aside. She again found her way and stood right ahead of the drummers. But no one was noticing her. She was infuriated and clueless. She wanted to do something, but did not know what. The loud noise at such close proximity was unbearable. Finally she found enough courage and pushed one of the drummers. The drummer lost his balance and stopped, and everybody around noticed. The drummers stopped and the thumping of the drums ceased. Narendra Patil walking a little behind the drummers noticed it too.
He came running and took Priyanaka by the arm and screamed “Are you drunk. Girl? How the hell you dare push one of our drummers?”
“oh! Stop the hypocrisy show some civic sense, and stop the noise ” Priyanaka screamed back.
“Ah its you Priyanaka, We thought you were a devout Ganesh follower” Narendra Patil recognized Priyanaka, the girl next door
“How can you stop the procession don’t you love Ganeshji and why hinder his final journey like this?”
Narendra Patil questioning her love and devotion for Ganeshji, broke the dam. She was beyond control now.
“You mean Ganeshji is asking for all the music, He has come to listen to the rubbish you play in the name of God, and call this small children, gullible women and drunk men gyrate on these obscene numbers as devotion”
“Priyanka shut your mouth and get lost, else will cut you to pieces, here and now” screamed Narendra Patil with blood shot eyes. How could a kid who grew up right in front of him, talk to him like that and question his devotion to Ganeshji in full public view.
“Shut me up Patilji and cut me to pieces if you wish but what do you think all the people living in these buildings- some old, some sick, some preparing for the exams, some just searching for peace think of your procession and your devotion?” Priyanka was now resolute.
“And does Ganeshji never listen to people who just say a silent prayer, and does Ganeshji need such a grand procession and such loud music to add to his glory? You are wrong Patilji. Ganeshji belongs to all and showers his blessings without exceptions, just the belief is important and not this music”
Thud – a slap was felt across Priyanka’s face. She lost her senses, momentarily and fell on the ground. Her ear started to bleed, someone standing nearby picked her up. She was shaken by the blow from Narendra Patil. She was trembling and her knees shaking.
“Come on, start the music, let the procession continue” declared Narendra Patil. “Today’s generation will never know the meaning of pure devotion and love for our Gods” he said scornfully looking at Priyanaka.
As the procession moved on, Priyanaka just stood there thinking “is my love, faith and devotion for Ganeshji any less?”