Years ago, my colleague, Bhavani, gifted me a little ceramic idol of Ganesha. I placed the tiny figurine on my writing desk, next to a clock, and he watched, as I wrote or stared at the screen of my laptop, struggling to write. I did not garland him or offer him flowers or pray to him for guidance or fold my palms in reverence before him. But, he has been my companion for years–my friend and confidante–and has witnessed both my elation and my despair as I played with words, and chased elusive ones. I took his inconspicuous presence for granted, till I saw little Ira staring at him curiously. My desk was a territory that had escaped her exploration. Till now.
Without warning, she picked up the idol in her tiny hands, and holding it aloft, scrutinised it. “He is Ganpati Bappa?” she asked. We had visited many homes during Ganesh Chaturthi, and she was familiar with the elephant-faced God. Many were the questions I had answered as patiently as I humanly could, about his visage, his home in the sky, about the tiny mouse who ferried him around, and his broken tooth. “Yes, Ira. Be careful. Don’t drop him,” I said, as she placed him on the bed with a thump. Next, she brought in a toy utensil that resembled a lamp and rotated it before him, singing what sounded like an aarti–gibberish set to tune. I couldn’t help smiling. It was when she started feeding him a small lump of dough, which our cook had parted with, under duress, that I knew I had to be on guard, especially because my octogenarian mother had entered the room and turned to stone.
Mother’s mouth was a cavern. Her eyebrows had disappeared into her hairline. So astounded was she at the sight of the god being fed unpalatable food so unceremoniously, that she sputtered and gesticulated, till she found her voice. “Don’t do that,” she reprimanded. “But, Bappa is hungry,” the little one remarked. “I’m feeding him laddoos.” I had leaned forward to retrieve Ganesha from Ira’s hands but her innocent concern about the rumblings in his stomach and the purposeful look in her eyes, forced me to retreat. “Gods understand, Amma,” I assured Mother, who was already looking skyward and chanting, asking for forgiveness for the ‘sacrilege’.
“Amma, have you taken your blood pressure medication?” I asked, as I steered her out of the room, one eye on the feeding ritual in progress. Satisfied that Ganesha had had his fill, the little one wiped his mouth and placed him back on the desk. She stood with her hands on her hips, smiling like a triumphant mother who had overfed her child. “Bye, Bappa,” she cried out cheerily, and waved, as she sprinted out of the room. “How could you allow Ira to play with the god?” Mother asked, still reeling under the ‘impropriety’ of the kid’s act. “Oh, Amma, it isn’t how you see it. She looks at him as she would, her doll, Bluebell. She means no offence. Did you not see the love in her eyes, when she fed him?” Mother was skeptical. She brought out her crystal rosary and moved her thumb furiously over the beads, hoping to mitigate the potential wrath of the god. The feeding became an almost daily ritual, and I could see a beatific smile on the idol’s face, which I attributed to my overfertile imagination. Mother too came to somewhat accept it as an affectionate gesture, but continued with her damage control routine of prayer and counting beads.
Two days back, as I stepped into my room, all set to write, there was Ira with the ear tips of her toy stethoscope plugged into her ears. So engrossed was she in her role of doctor that she failed to notice my presence. Lying supine on the adapter of my laptop was Ganesha, the destroyer of obstacles. Ira had wound the cable of the mouse attached to the laptop, around his body. She had placed the chestpiece of the stethoscope on his chest, covering his entire being, listening intently, and asking him to “Take a deep breath.” I stood quietly not wanting to interrupt the examination but was curious, nevertheless, to know what ailed the harbinger of health, wealth, happiness, wisdom. I had stopped breathing, when she turned around, and in a clinical voice befitting a doctor, announced, “Bappa has a stomach-ache.” “And the cable?” I asked, “what is that for?” She clicked her tongue and slapped her forehead, exasperated by my ignorance. “That is not a cable. Those are tubes. Bappa is in hospital,” she said, solemnly. I remembered all the episodes of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ that we had watched, assured that the kid was sleeping peacefully. It also took me back to the day the scamp had given us a scare and been hospitalised for a couple of days. The memory had, obviously, remained.
Mother’s entry into the room couldn’t have been more ill-timed. “Oh, no. What have you done, child? Gods don’t fall ill. They cure us, look after us. Please forgive the child,” she pleaded, looking at the ceiling. Her face looked flushed and she broke out into a sweat. Not understanding what the fuss was about, Ira looked at me for an explanation. Knowing from previous experience that I would have to use all the wisdom bestowed on me by Ganesha, so as to not pit the petulance of a four-year-old against the hypertensive tendencies of an octogenarian, as both would prove detrimental to my own mental health, I straightened my spine. “Bappa needs to get well soon, sweetheart. So, what is doctor Ira going to do about it?” I asked, as I made Mother sit under the fan and handed her a glass of water. “Hmmm…,” Ira said, nodding. Tearing off a page from my writing pad and grabbing my sharpened Apsara extra dark pencil, she scribbled on it. “Medicine for Bappa. Calpol,” she said and handed the prescription over to me with a flourish, confident that what her own doctor had prescribed during her illness, would work for the god too.
I pretended to feed Calpol to Ganesha, and placed my ear close to him. “His stomach-ache is gone. Bappa just told me that, doctor,” I announced, as I unwound the cable encircling his body and helped him to his feet. “Thank you, doctor Ira,” I said, smiling broadly, before she changed her mind about his recovery. By then, she was examining my mother, who exhaled noisily and let out a sigh, now that the mite’s attention had shifted from the divine to the human. I had managed to avert a health disaster and rescue god himself from a potentially long confinement. “Maybe we shouldn’t feed him dough and so many laddoos,” I remarked, hoping that Ganesha would be spared the unconventional gastronomical experiences, in times to come. “Yes, ArchanMama,” she replied. “Do you think he would like to eat a pizza?” she asked, after deep thought. Mother coughed noisily. “Ira, I think Bappa needs to fast. No food for some days. You’ve only just cured him, ” I said, as I suppressed my laughter, opened my cupboard, and apologising to Ganesha for this unexpected development, placed him inside it. For some time, he would be safe.
That the gods look after us, I had been told since I was knee-high. The little one taught me that, once in a way, gods too need some tender loving care.