Ganesh Chaturthi: When Every Middle-Class Family Turns Interior Designer and Art Decorator
Illustration: Robin Chakraborty
When you grow up in a middle-class home, outlets for creativity are limited, much like political options in India. Right from school, pursuits like drawing, singing, and craft are considered “extracurricular activities” — basically a waste of time. If you excel at them, the only stage you’re offered is at family functions where dad tells you “Beta, uncle ko ganaa gaake sunao” or “Beta, dadi ki liye birthday card banao”. As a career choice, art is considered the bottom of the barrel. If you told your parents, you wanted to join a design school, they’d sit you down to tell you, “Yeh ameeron ke shauq hain, beta.” Only rich people can afford creative careers, because “scope nahi hai”.
Middle-class folks are required to curb their creativity the same way Hardik Pandya curbs his attacking instincts in Test cricket. However, there is one festival which turns into a mosh pit for the creative types – Ganesh Chaturthi.
Ganesha is the God of Fun, associated with music, modaks, and masti. Whether it is channelling your inner Bappi Lahiri to decorate the pandal or dancing like Govinda on crack during the visarjan, this is the middle-class Ganpati bhakt’s moment to shine.
The creative minds get to work days before Chaturthi. When you go to pick the murti, even mom turns into Michelangelo, chipping in with enthusiasm about the shape of Ganesha’s trunk, the intricacies of his jewellery, and the colour of his dhoti. Even a tiny detail like the mouse is not missed. I remember her saying once, “This mouse looks a little angry. We need a happy mouse.” But when it comes to ordering food at a restaurant or buying a TV at Vijay Sales, she’d show little interest. “Jo sab ko acha lage le lo”.
Once the perfect idol is picked, the group-craft project gets rolling. Stationery that hasn’t been used in years in pulled out, Chinese lights and lanterns are bought causing a dent to Make In India. Remember the fancy marriage invitation you received from your rich Marwari neighbours, envelopes studded with colourful stones, satin ribbons, unique gift boxes, and wrapping paper that mom had saved waiting for the perfect moment to bring them out? This is that moment.
The only person in the family who took to art and crafts in school becomes the head of the Ganpati Decoration Project. In my case, it is my little cousin who takes charge, instructing everyone on what to do. It’s great fun to watch grandparents fidgeting with sketch pens and dad struggling with clay.
When out of ideas, the family nerd chips in. “More research is needed for this project,” he says and immediately starts googling for “home Ganpati decoration ideas”. Ganeshji is a cool customer, he seems happy if you put him in a cricket stadium, have him pose with army men, or put him in a cave along with a little message about the environment. And if you want to keep it simple, a few lights and some flowers are enough to make Bappa’s face glow.
Once the decor plan is finalised, everyone gets cracking. It is one of the very few activities that brings the entire family together. This and mom’s monthly paani-puri party. Or if Sholay is playing on Sony.
As the struggle with the scissors begins, dad will joke about how he always sucked at craft and sister will start mocking dad’s terrible colour choices for the background. Why would anyone go for the orange and red combination? Mom doesn’t appreciate how lightly everyone is treating the project and expects perfection. “Arré woh paper ke phool acche nahin dikh rahe hain. Log kya kahenge?”
This is just the beginning and soon tempers begin to fly. Should the mountain in the background have orange lights or green? Should the curtains be velvet or cotton? Should we keep the sweets on the left or the right? It is one of the few situations in the house when democracy prevails and majority decisions decide outcomes.
Once the decor is complete and you are in shiny new clothes with freshly purchased modaks in hand, the examiners, aka guests begin flocking to the house. “Yeh phool kitne sundar hain,” says the neighbouring aunty and everyone looks at mum and smiles. But there’s always someone like Mrs Sharma who will find some fault. “Yeh mountains bade fake lag rahe hain. Humare Monu ki saas ke ghar mein, itna beautiful decoration hai naa.” Time for a joint family eye roll. After guests leave mum suggests, “Next time, let’s make Monu’s saas in charge of the decor.”
Ganesh Chaturthi is when every parent turns interior designer, every kid a painter, every uncle a craft expert, and grandma is a jewellery designer. It’s an art exhibition of the middle-class — and every clay mountain or paper flower, is the pièce de résistance.