Morya Re! Big Bhau, Feminist Mulgis, and Other Specimens of Your Local Ganpati Pandal

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Morya Re! Big Bhau, Feminist Mulgis, and Other Specimens of Your Local Ganpati Pandal

Illustration: Saachi Mehta

Ganesh Chaturthi is to Maharashtrians what the Carnival is to Brazilians, and a Honey Singh concert is to Dilliwalas – a chance to cut loose and have some fun. It’s time for dhols, taashas, and trashy Bollywood bangers. Bappa has arrived, so decibel records must be shattered, the 10 pm loudspeaker deadline be damned.

I’m pretty sure if a Ganesh idol came to life, the first thing it’d do is tell people to calm down, and maybe put on some sweet aratis instead. But playing devotional songs at a Ganpati celebration is the equivalent of playing the US national anthem at an Iraqi wedding: Both might result in the DJ getting shot, and what good would that do?

Without a DJ, there is no Ganesh pandal. The DJ sets the tone and the pace for everything, from the line for darshan to the booty shakes during a visarjan. The highlight of his career is spinning tracks at a B-grade Bollywood star’s sangeet, and his claim to fame is killing the music at the exact moment the “Ho ho ho ho” part kicks in during Sukhbir’s “Ishq Tera Tadpave”. This makes him feel like he belongs up there among the ranks of jet-setting DJs who know how to correctly pronounce Ibiza. But alas, DJ Bandya is stuck on a truck mixing “Chikni Chameli” with “Jai Jai Maharashtra Majha” as the crowd of kakas, kakis, dadas, and tais throws up heart signs when they hear the opening bars to “Kombadi Palali”.

Right next to the DJ, keeping a watch on all proceedings from the pandal’s highest vantage point is Big Bhau. Big Bhau is the son/grandson/nephew/cousin of an even Bigger Bhau. This millennial Marathi manoos is breathing in the shadow of the middle-aged Bigger Bhau, who’s worked hard and beaten up a few North Indian bhaiyyas to get where he is. Big Bhau’s favourite activities include taking selfies while twirling his scant Marathi moustache, and enforcing order amid the chaos. When not doing dadagiri, you will find him channelling his inner Shivaji, his steed being his trusty Pulsar which is adorned with a saffron flag and a tiger sticker.

It’s all good until an argument breaks out over whose thalipeeth brings all the boys to the yard, and the mulgis start a brawl.

When cops show up to tell DJ Bandya to turn down the volume, Big Bhau rushes to the rescue. He will show up with his sleeves rolled up, ready to go to war. When women are harassed at the pandal, Big Bhau feels compelled to step in and serve up a couple of slaps to the transgressor while chiding the women for smiling and giggling too much. He puts himself in charge of everything from crowd control to prasad distribution, all this to make Bigger Bhau proud and someday take his place.

While Big Bhau and the rest of the men occupy themselves with establishing dominance over their fort (which is what the Ganpati pandal is modelled after this year), the newly woke, freshly feminist Marathi Mulgis have some plans of their own. These women believe in turning the pandal into a safe space for everyone. This often involves dressing up in navvari sarees, tons of imitation jewellery, aviators, and phetas which are traditionally reserved for men. They might also decide to kick it up a notch by escorting the Ganpati procession on bikes and performing lavni on the streets. Ten points to Shivaji Mitra Mandal for reversing gender roles. It’s all good until an argument breaks out over whose thalipeeth brings all the boys to the yard, and the mulgis start a brawl. Big Bhau could try to break it up, but he’s hopelessly outmatched because Dadar hath no fury like a mulgi scorned.

Standing in a corner casting a watchful eye over all the proceedings in the pandal is Kashyala Kaka. Kashyala Kaka is as cynical as they come. His idea of Ganpati is a traditional celebration devoid of the modern bells, whistles, and Bollywood brouhaha. He gets his name from the trademark catchphrase, “Ughich Kashyala?” Why does this pandal have Bollywood music? Why should we lower the volume? And what is this new eco-friendly decorations naatak? Kashyala Kaka is not too pleased that the new generation is taking control of the pandal. His doorstep is where enthusiasm goes to die. You could try to answer his question, but that would only lead to an infinite loop of more kashyalas which end only when his friends call him for their daily adda at the bar.

These kakas, bhais, tais, and mais are part of the big family that makes up a sarvajanik Ganesh mandal. They may bicker, they may brawl but when it comes to Bappa they are in it together.

So prep yourself to be stuck in traffic behind a dancing procession, or being woken up from your sleep by a bhatji (pujari) singing “Jai dev, Jai dev” into the mike for the next 10 days. This party’s just getting started. And it’s going to be “Zingaat”.

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