It’s always an emotional moment when you say goodbye to Lord Ganesha.
One-and-a-half days after the elephant-headed God comes home (catch our coverage here), the first of the idols are immersed by those of the families who have invited Ganpati home for this duration.
These families lovingly hold their idols in their arms and walk, or cradle them on their laps for a short car ride, to the nearest immersion area – it could be sea, a well or a nearby pond.
Vikki Khanna and his family allow us to share the joys and the sorrow of these beautiful last moments, as they prepare to bid adieu to Lord Ganesha.
When you climb up the stairs, you will find that the door of the second in the row is open.
Open doors are a strange phenomenon in a city like Mumbai, where people hardly know their neighbours. But the sea of slippers outside the open door stands testimony to the uniting power of faith.
Sounds of laughter and second-hand, expert political opinion (and more laughter) fill the air. Peek in through the open door and you will find that Vikki Khanna’s drawing room is filled with people.
The reason is really quite obvious.
After all, it is the first time in the eight years since he took up residence in his new home that Vikki has brought the elephant headed deity home.
"It wasn't something that we planned," said Vikki’s father, Ramesh Khanna. "We have brought Ganpati three times already and we have been planning it for Vikki's home for almost 10 years. This time it just happened."
Vikki adds, "Since my family had been living with me for the past month and a half, we thought this time let's just do it."
The area reserved for Lord Ganesh (one column of a cleared out television cabinet) is a small one -- at least compared to the grandeur of others it is -- and relatively simpler. But it has a serenity to it.
The decoration is beautiful. It is interesting to see what a creative mind can accomplish with a few rice bulbs and a thermacol backdrop.
There is one fancy piece of equipment, though… and that is a rotating chhatri (a royal umbrella, the kind that is observed in paintings of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj). Vikki says that it works on a motor and he bought it since they couldn't fit the upright kind in the limited space they had.
A medium sized Bal Ganesh leans over a Shivling and smiles knowingly at all those who bow before him. In the backdrop, the Lord's father's third eye and trident stand guard.
"Since it is the first time I have brought Bal Ganesh home, his father has come with him," Vikki laughs. The theme for the year has been the father-son bond and the Khannas have decorated their puja area accordingly.
The family has even been conducting their own puja; they’ve decided not to call a priest. "Whatever the pandit (priest)will say in Sanskrit, we'll just say in Hindi," Vikki shrugs, insisting that God has no language bias.
As the sun begins to inch towards the horizon, there is a sudden burst of activity in the Khanna household. The preparation for the last aarti has begun. Aruna Khanna, Vikki's mother, sets out the boxes of sweets that will be needed.
"We are very particular about the mithai (sweets), " she says, handing me a modak-shaped peda, "Whenever there is an important function in the family, we always get our sweets from Kanha in Amritsar."
Outside, in the drawing room, Vikki's brother prepares the thaali.
Several members of the Khanna family, along with Vikki's school friends, are present and lending a hand to make sure that Lord Ganesha's first visit to Vikki's home is a pleasant one. After all, as the popular chant goes, they do want Him to come back next year.
It is interesting to note that the majority of the people present are North Indian and instructions for preparations before the aarti are given in Punjabi, but more than half of the bhajans sung are in Marathi.
Vikki attributes this to the fact that he has been brought up in a city that, for a major part of his life, was called Bombay.
"I've been singing these bhajans for over 35 years. This is all I know."
The Khannas begin their prayers before sundown to be on time. It seems that everyone in the building who is hosting the Lord has made arrangements about the timing of each one's visarjan so that no one gets caught up in a crowd.
Neither recordings nor microphones are employed during the aarti. According to Vikki, "Faith is very personal. We shouldn't force people to participate if they choose not to. Loudspeakers only cause a nuisance. God can hear us without them too."
When the time for the visarjan finally arrives, there is a minimum amount of fanfare. The absence of dhols (drums) and patakas (fire crackers) come as a relief.
The manner in which the family carries the idol to the car makes it seem less like a celebratory procession to the local pond and more like they're going to see off a family member at the train station.
All that's missing is a suitcase.
Vikki's chacha, his paternal uncle, carries the idol on a small, bright red wooden chowki. Ganpati is to ride on the front seat of an SUV, it seems.
The rest of the party fit into a car, on a motorcycle and on a scooter and drive off. A sense of reluctance fills the air. The pond where the idol is to be immersed is but a few minutes' drive away.
The time to say goodbye has arrived.
When the aarti is performed again, at the edge of the pond, it seems more mechanical this time.
The crowds are increasing in number as they push their way through the narrow gates. Vikki's friends stand aside while the family has a moment with the idol, and joke about the irony of the unending stream of bats that fly south in the cloudy, dark blue skies above and the vendor near the gate who is selling glowing Devil horns.
Posters of political parties are everywhere. Beggar children attempt to scavenge the remnants of pujas conducted at the edge of the pond -- broken coconuts, offerings of bananas that have been left behind and, if they are lucky, even a stray piece of a laddoo here and there.
Several families – who are bidding goodbye to Lord Ganesha after one-and-a-half days -- conduct their aartis and distribute the prasad to anyone who passes their way.
Vikki, his brother and his uncle do the same. Once the rituals have been completed, they carry their Ganpati idol down the steps, to the water.
Perhaps the most difficult moment is when the idol is handed over for immersion to four men on a makeshift boat (since devotees are not allowed into the pond).
The Khannas watch as their beloved Lord is ceremoniously dipped three times in the water, as per ritual, before he finally disappears beneath the murky surface.
In the far distance, the sounds of dhols and cymbals can be heard. The crowds suddenly increase. The signal is clear -- the bigger idols are ready for immersion.
The clouds rumble overhead and the sky gets darker. Vikki Khanna lingers for a moment, staring at the spot where his Ganesh idol had disappeared only moments ago.
"I've been doing this since I was in the third standard and, every year, the visarjan is hard. Even though He was with us for only one-and-a-half days, it is not easy to go through with this. This is the first time Ganpati has come to my home and we have done everything with our own hands, so there is a little more attachment. It is like saying goodbye to a member of the family."
The Khanna family and their friends join hundreds of other devotees as they head towards the exit… it is a bittersweet moment for the whole group.
While there will always be an empty place in one corner of the house, where Lord Ganesha had once rested, the satisfaction of having served Him is clear on their faces.
The process is not an easy one, of course, but where there is the Vignahartha, there is always hope of a next year.