I happened to pass through Gulbai Tekra in Amdabad (Ahemdabad), during my recent trip to India, and realized Ganesh Chaturthi was around the corner. I remembered always seeing these beautiful Ganesh idols being crafted every year, in this large slum area, starting about 2 months before the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi. I told my daughter that this slum is known as Hollywood, not knowing why. My daughter curiously googled this area and to our amusement found that Google maps also lists it as “Hollywood basti”! Each time I passed by this area, during my 3 week stay, the workers who work in rain or scorching Ahmedabad heat, amidst all the filth and lack of basic amenities, filled me with awe, wonder, inspiration and sadness all at the same time.
I could not help but go there and talk to these slum dwellers, such wonderful artisans, about their murtis and their lives. Majority of these idols are made of plaster of paris while a few are made out of clay. The idols are filled with coir fibers, extracted from coconut shells and dipped in wet plaster of paris, for strength.
To fund these creations, these craftsmen have to borrow money from merchants, often using their homes and jewelry as collateral. Each idol, depending on the size, shape, color and looks, sells from a thousand to thousands of rupees. Of course, this does not provide enough for them for the whole year. During the off season, the people I spoke with, would earn money by selling and repairing watches made in China.
How ironic that these magnificent works of art would be used by devotees throughout Gujarat and neighboring states to celebrate the birth of Ganesh, the god of prosperity and good fortune! The kids there begged me to take their pictures. So I did and that made them so happy and they proudly posed for me. Later, I heard from my niece that she routinely sees and hears people in this basti enjoy themselves.
Perhaps they have uncovered a secret to happiness that still eludes many of us.
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