One evening back in middle school, working nimbly with little blocks of plasticine, my father created a Ganesh in a matter of a few minutes. He went on to teach me how to make one- I can't remember if it was just for fun, or for a clay modelling competition in school- but I did win one anyway, using the same technique.
Memory is a fickle thing. Last month, I had realised Ganesh Chathurthi was coming soon, and for once, just once since leaving home, I wanted to do something to celebrate it. I said to K, "We know how to sculpt with clay now!", alluding to the ceramics classes we'd taken together a few months ago. I'd completely forgotten that I'd actually learnt to make the very Ganesha figure sort of by the back of my hand, long before any ceramics lessons. As I enthusiastically started to visualise how to build the parts in my head, the strokes suddenly felt so familiar.
Ganesh Chathurthi is a special memory. It has a unique flavour of being extremely regimental, yet curiously fun at the same time. The waking up at 5 AM, having a "headbath", helping my mother bring out the dozen dishes she'd have prepared as offering since the crack of dawn (how!), then sleepy wafting into the Puja room- that was the hard part. The week leading up to it, we'd have been fussing over buying the perfect Ganesha idol, walking up and down a very decked-out Pondy Bazaar to find the prettiest little umbrella to shade him with. For me, it had little to do with religion, really. Finally when we sat down for the Puja, my father would begin by reading aloud mantras from a little booklet, the same he'd use year after year. Slowly he'd make his way to the story of Ganesha in pure, beautiful, expressive Telugu that was otherwise a stranger to me in Chennai- the city I called home. That was the crescendo to which I would finally fully awaken!
My favourite part about the story was the spat between Lord Ganesha and the moon God. You have to listen to my father's narration to hear what I miss now, but that aside, the moral of the story was: don't you cast your sights upon the moon the night of Ganesh Chathurthi, you'll incur the wrath of the mighty Lord Ganesh. His hugely popular physical appearance notwithstanding, Ganesha is one of the most interesting personalities among the Hindu Gods. A megagod with a fun, smart and playful demeanour, but also one with a temper- don't ignore him for the other Gods, he'll be very angry- my mother would say.
The one Ganesha fact that's tickled my fascination for a very, very long time is the fact that his favourite food is Modakam. A dumpling made of rice flour, stuffed with coconut and jaggery. I would say, "But, how do you know, mummy?" I still say so, but I'm more amused than puzzled.
We never had traditional modakams at home- my mother used to prepare a savoury variety, so I never got a taste of the famed version that is said to be his favourite. So I began gathering things for my very first modakam. A European one at that. The classic rice flour dumplings, but stuffed with a pistacchio-dried coconut filling- somewhat like a burfi, accompanied with a chilled blueberry sauce made from berries as the summer here makes its exit. Cardamom has its way of taking me back home with just a little whiff, so naturally it had a firm spot in it all.
So here we are! I'm happy we will have finally started our own little tradition this year, and will probably send away Ganesha into the Spree when the time comes. In the meantime, I will continue to giggle at how the crown unwittingly turned out like a birthday cap. Happy birthday, Ganesha!