There must be no other day when Mumbai’s streets are thronged with so many people as I saw yesterday on Anant Chaturdashi, the visarjan day when Ganpati is immersed into the sea at various places like Girgaum, Juhu, Shivaji Park, Versova and also in various water bodies(lakes,ponds and wells) in Mumbai.
I was standing in the midst of lakhs of people at Girgaum Chowpatty who were either a part of the visarjan procession or like me watching the Ganpatis pass by. Women, men, children, young and old people, some of them drunk were either dancing away in the din as a part of the procession heading towards the beach or standing or sitting on whatever space was available… footpaths, dividers, roads, building walls, rooftops of terraces and shops.. on or in any vacant space available. One foreigner was dressed for the occasion and was wearing a Ganpati shirt.
The Ganpatis came in all sizes and colors. There were small, medium and big Ganpatis. There were household, wadi, building, galli and area sarvajanik Ganpatis. There were white, blue, silver, golden and yellow Ganpatis. There were rajas and maharajas. (The most prestigious Ganpati in a particular area is suffixed with a raja or maharaja like Lalbagcha Raja or Girgaumcha Maharaja). There were lone Ganpatis or Ganpatis with accompanying gods and goddesses. There were Ganpatis being carried in hand carts, carts, tempos, cars, jeeps, trucks and the really huge ones were being pulled on manual trolleys by the people itself. There were Ganpatis from Agripada, from Khetwadi, from Girgaum and from Lalbaug. There were Ganpatis from Sutar Galli and from Satta Galli, from Dhobi Talao and from Chinchpokli. Well, they were coming in from all directions and from all over Bombay.
I walked to Girgaum Chowpatty which is just a kilometer away from my house. The traffic was being diverted onto different routes. Many roads were closed or made one-way. Many offices had declared a holiday and those that were open would have left their employees early. All along the route, various political parties had put up stalls and were offering sharbat, water, cold drinks and even laddoos for the people who were dancing in the procession. Each group had the Ganpati generally in the front followed by the people dancing to different tunes of Bollywood numbers, Ganpati songs in Marathi or to the sound of dholaks and drums. They were bursting firecrackers, throwing gulal or even spraying confetti from cans which looking like shaving foam cans. One group danced to the traditional Marathi dance form of Lezim.
Visarjan also brought out ‘entrepreneurs’ selling foodstuff all along the route. Yesterday there must have been some kind of Guinness book record set of the most number of ‘wada pavs’ being sold in Bombay. One of the guys selling wadas at the corner of Nana Chowk told me that he would sell at least thousand wadas till 6 am in the morning. There were enterprising homemakers also selling wada and bhaji pav along with the regular vendors of dosa, dabeli, sev-puri, pani puri etc. Most of the places to eat out at Chowpatty were closed.
We thought that the best way to go to the beach was to be part of a Ganpati procession. So we joined a group which had a medium sized Ganpati. Each group had people holding a thick rope tied in front and back of the truck, which encompassed and thus protected and segregated their group from the rest of the crowd. The beach had lakhs of people who were either going towards the sea immersing the idol they had come with, standing or sitting around watching the idols go into the sea or going back after immersing the idol they had come with through a long drawn exit which came out opposite Wilson college. If one looked towards the sea one could see many idols at different distances being immersed in a sea of humanity.
There also were VIP viewing galleries, which had some politicians and foreigners with garlands, various stalls with a First-Aid facility, Announcement booths, May I Help You booths and toilets. One could hear announcements of “ Chotya mulancha haat pakda’ – Hold your small child’s hand, Chala chala pudhe chala – Go on, walk ahead or - “Yeto aahe ata Girgaumcha Maharaja”- indicating which Ganpati was about to pass by next.
The police and the security that one saw were unprecedented. They were all over the place. Volunteers were helping out in the water distribution stalls. The Traffic police, Mumbai police, riot control police, Senior citizen volunteers, NCC and volunteers from an organisation called the Anirudh Institute Of Disaster Management were handling traffic and crowd management excellently. It is said that the traffic management is so good on visarjan day you would have taken less time to drive through Marine Drive yesterday than on a normal working day. One also spotted the Municipal Commissioner, Johnny Joseph, Police Commissioner A.N Roy, Chief minister, Vilasrao Deshmukh and other ministers at Girgaum Chowpatty.
I did not wait till the Lalbagcha Raja arrived at 3 am but I am sure that there would have been a lot of cleaning to be done at Chowpatty on the next day when the crowds had disappeared and all the Ganpatis had been immersed.