x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi - the sustainable way

Recently, I discovered how little I know about my own country.

One of the things I love about the UAE's eclectic population is the constant exposure to different types of people and thought processes. Recently, I discovered how little I know about my own country.

Living in Dubai has allowed me to experience the culture of other parts of India. It was the Indian festival of Ganesh Chaturthi last week and we were invited to a celebration of the elephant-headed deity Ganesh. I am not one to turn down an opportunity to sample rich, spicy subcontinental food, and this was a chance, too, to peer through a window into one of the most important and joyful festivals of western Indian tradition.

So off we went, all of a flutter to see the Ganesh idol that was to preside over the celebrations. Our host, a visual artist, hadn't simply bought a statue from a shop, but meticulously sculpted and painted her own Ganesh - and we couldn't wait to see it. All in the spirit of 21st-century political correctness and whatnot, the twist was that the idol was made entirely of recycled materials: bottles, cans, newspapers and other odds and ends.

As we sailed into the party, we were immediately struck by the sheer brightness and colourful vitality about the place. Teenage girls are the same everywhere; we can't resist the urge to dress up and show off. An Indian dress code makes it all the easier to flaunt your most vivid peacock blues, sparkly golds and ostentatious baroque jewels that you would dearly like to strut about in, but haven't the nerve to if you're simply strolling across the street or Mall of the Emirates.

There was, it seemed, an unmentioned competition between the guests of exotic sartorial flamboyance: whether X could carry off the most elaborate hairstyle or if Y could last the whole evening wearing those preposterously heavy earrings before they yanked her earlobes off. There was, too, a fair bit of giggling and looking hopefully over at the kurta-clad guys, who were happy to shuffle their pointy, curly-toed shoes and furtively shoot each other sheepish smiles.

It was quite peaceful to meditatively observe people until I was snapped out of my reverie by a guest, who wanted to know "Didn't I want to ... ?", she gestured at the fabulously creative masterpiece that was the Ganesh idol. I stared at her blankly. She stared back, frowning. It was a few seconds before I realised that I should probably follow the protocol, which was to kneel down, offer a prayer and stop looking silly as the only person who hadn't done so already.

The sound system had, by this point, struck up a hymn, and the feeling of camaraderie was surprisingly calming as the guests clapped to the rhythm. A steel plate with an earthen lamp on it was passed around, marigold petals were showered on the idol and it was finally time for the most exciting bit - a traditional dinner and dessert. Any guilt about the calorie-laden laddoos (sweet, gram flour balls) I chomped through was assuaged by having been part of what, after all, was a sustainable environment initiative.


The writer is a 17-year-old student in Dubai