For me, Ganesha is there-yet-not-there. I don’t worship God in the form of Ganesha. I probably never will. Ganapati idols and pictures evoke no reverence or feelings of sanctity in me.
And yet… and yet… This happened on 18th September 1998:
Back then, I was fanatically regular about my daily morning swim, driving to a nearby club in my little green Maruti 800. Dad and Mom often accompanied me.
That day, Dad was terribly busy and wouldn’t come. Neither would Mom. “Krish, won’t you stay home and help me out?” Dad pleaded. He isn’t someone who normally asks for help. He isn’t the sort of guy who would ask me to cancel my swim, knowing how much it meant to me. But that day, he asked, he pleaded.
“No, Dad… sorry. I can’t miss my swim.” Blunt refusal. Somewhere inside me, a little niggling voice was asking whether I was doing the right thing, but I brushed it aside. As I drove out of our neighbourhood, its narrow link to the highway was totally blocked, all dug up by road-diggers. (This, by the way, had never happened before, and has never happened since. Sure, road-diggers dig, but they never entirely block the way.) “Shit! It’s as though everything is conspiring against me today,” I muttered. For a moment, I thought of turning back and going home… and then my stubborn streak took over.
There was a back way out of our neighbourhood — a barely-motorable narrow lane that passed through slums. I had never ever taken that way before, but that day, I did for the first time.
And then I was out on the open highway… at last! I should have been feeling relief and a sense of victory. But why was there that little feeling that something wasn’t quite right?
“Ganesha, are you with me today, dost? Why am I getting the feeling that you aren’t?” I murmered. On hindsight, I wonder why. Because that’s not something I normally do. That’s not something I had ever done before that morning. Nor have I ever done it afterwards.
“Ganesha? Hey Ganesha… what’s wrong, pal?” I mumbled, at another point of the road near the Octroi Naka, crawling through slow traffic. Of course there was no reply.
Five minutes later, I halted at a signal behind a water-tanker — not directly behind, but a bit to the right-hand side so that the road ahead was visible by the side of the tanker. The ugly rear end of the tanker was almost high enough for my vehicle to go under.
And then there was a loud screeching sound behind. I glanced into my rear-view mirror — just in time to see ANOTHER WATER TANKER CANNONBALLING INTO MY CAR!
SCREEE-EECH! THUDDDD!! CRASH!! CRUNCHETTY-CRRRNCH!!! TINKLE TINKLE!!! There were all those metallic crushing crumpling grinding deafening sounds that one can never quite convey in words… for about five seconds.
When those five seconds were in progress, I saw that my car was being propelled forward… UNDER THE REAR OF THE WATER TANKER IN FRONT! Aaargh! Noooooooo!
And then it was over. In the silence that followed, I noted that the steering wheel was pressed against my belly, the windshield was shattered. I tried to get out of the car, but the door wouldn’t open.
The window glass was open. So I wiggled and climbed out of the window, just in time to see the driver of the tanker behind — an underage, underweight teenager — bolting away into the alleys between the roadside shops.
I surveyed the damage. The bonnet of my Maruti was crushed against the right rear wheel of the tanker in front. This had effectively prevented my vehicle from being pushed completely under, and probably saved my life.
The car was a total loss. Bonnet crushed, roof bulging up, floor bulging down, rear passenger seats pressed against the back of the front seats, hatchback smashed.
As a crowd began to gather around, I was laughing, jubilant in the morning sun, euphoric to be alive and in one piece.
No, I didn’t do anything like going to a temple afterwards to celebrate my survival. I still don’t think of the Divinity in terms of the endearing potbellied Ganesha.
I’ve had a small number of near-hits — some as a result of my own carelessness or stupidity — where I or others around me have narrowly escaped being majorly injured or killed. Yes, I feel blessed and protected whenever such things happen. But I usually never remember Ganesha or pray to him.
Today, amidst the noisy music from the Ganapati pandal outside, I’m thinking about this cute, cuddly elephant-headed deity, and wondering how I remembered him so many times that enchanted morning.
September 15, 2007