I have a long history of offending the Hindu deity Ganesh, the Elephant -headed remover of obstacles. He is a kind god, so perhaps after all this time he has become something of a friend to me.
My first instance of sacrilege was during a 6th grade class session of “show and tell”. Pranav, a genius-level over-achiever from an Indian family, brought in some sacred relics…a small statuette and a photograph miniature, and put these on a empty table stand prior to giving his presentation. I came back from lunch before he could give his talk, and prompty went over to the display, picked up the statuette, handled it, set it down, and then went for the photo. Pranav, distracted talking to a class-mate, leapt from his seat. “NOOOOOO! DON’T!!!!!” he yelled, motioning me to put the photo down. “You aren’t supposed to touch it with bare hands. Even I’M not supposed to touch it without wrapping silk around my hand, and then only with the right! You, you touched it with bare hands, and YOUR LEFT and you aren’t a believer. Oh no.”
I must’ve looked stricken, and Pranav, who was a kind boy and who is now a world-class brain surgeon (no shit), lightened, and started to tell me what I needed to do to make amends to Ganesh, when just then the matriach bitch of our “Academically-Talented” class came back from lunch, shrieking, as was her mode most of the time. Enter Ms. Haggart, the nemesis of my pre-pubescent years.
“What is going on here boys?” she huffed, angrily eyeing me as she just adored Pranav on general principles, and was always uncertain, if immediately suspicious of me, for I was always, at best, one of her most promising if also unreliable and regularly disappointing of her pupils. I was not a transfer student, but an original denizen of the magnet school where our class was situated, and thus kept as my general company not the other nerd over-achievers of our segment, but instead kept counsel with the local ruffians, special ed kids, and budding truants.
“Steve touched my idol”
“Is that true, Steven?” she glowered.
“I guess so.”
“He didn’t know, Ms. Haggart, he didn’t know he’d get a curse if he touched it.”
“Well, Steven” she seethed, “you are now cursed. And you are now also going to fail this assignment and not get to go recess today. You should know better than to go around touching other students things, and so more respect for other cultures. Shame on you.”
Later, terrified of the Elephant-God’s curse, and what it would mean for the rest of my life, I asked Pranav, during the period when I was trapped at my desk during my no-recess punishment (Pranav regularly skipped recess altogether to sit at his desk and get caught up on the next day’s math problems), I asked him what the curse would mean for me.
“Oh probably nothing. Ganesh is a kind God. He’ll forgive you because you didn’t know. If you want, me and my family can ask his forgiveness for you during the night’s prayers tonight.”
“I’d like that!”
“Good, we’ll do that and you’ll probably, well, maybe, be o.k.”
So, enter a few days ago. I’ve been getting in a habit, lately, of taking a roundabout walk around the dammed lake portion of Ann Arbor’s Gallup Park after work at the top of the week. I appreciate th fall colors, and the steady pace of the roundabout, and the sunset vistas that strike over the bridge in the autumn twilight, and find the place restful in the evening’s repose, a good place to unwind in contemplative peace after a hard Monday or a long Tuesday workday. There also seem to be alot of attractive women who jog and walk the trail at that time on those days, but that is utterly besides the point of my sojourn.
On Monday, Oct. 29th, I began my walk as I often do, by walking out on the empty canoe launch pier near the west end parking lot. It was beautiful gazing out over the flaming red-orange-yellow trees reflected in the water, and also nice to gaze down into the murk and look at all the algae and seaweed and shit that was down there.
“Holy shit!” I said aloud, “what’s the fuck is that!”
I gazed down. For half-sunked in the muck and weeds about 4 feet down in the river just off the end of the pier was what looked to be a small statuette of sorts. I gazed down at it. It definately was a statutette or figurine of some sort: a Buddha, or Chinese deity, or one of those decorative figure glasses they give you overpriced tropical cocktails in at cheesy Tiki restaurants, something like that. At any rate, I wanted it. I wanted to pull it up out of that muck and see what the hell it was.
This was not going to be easy. The water, which I tested with my hand, was ice-cold. The statue was perched on a bed of weeds and muck, and even if I were stupid enough to just wade in after it, there was a good chance the water was far deeper than it looked under that muck, and I might lose it in a quicksand or when the clear water muddied.
I resolved to go look for a big stick or something to hopefully hook it with and pull it up out of there. This took awhile, and I had to venture into a patch of trees about 100 yards away where after awhile I found two good sticks about 4 feet long, with branches on the end that I thought might work well to hook the statue. I pissed in the stand of trees, and then, buckling, headed back to retrieve my submerged prize.
Back on the dock, I took off my coat, got on my belly, and on the second try with the longer of the two sticks, succeeded in hooking the branch through a natural loop where the statue’s arm circled to touch it’s waist. Heartstopped, I lifted it slowly…gently…almost there….from the water’s embrace. I then reached out and grabbed it, clutching it to my chest.
It was a small 1 foot long ceramic statue of GANESH!
My heart leapt as I carried him to my car, to set him gently in my trunk. I smelled him and his cool ceramic elephant flesh smelled sweetly of jasmine. Evidentially he had been bathed in ceremonial incense prior to his immersion. His immersion itself was a mystery to me, but I hypothesized that he may have been stolen from his rightful ceremonial home and tossed into the river by unbelievers, possibly Christians or more likely, punk kids who stole it from somebody. I was Ganesh’s rescuer now! I had finally made amends!
“This Ganesh” I said to myself, walking to the car, “this guy is my Buddy!”
After cleaning him up (although he in truth was not dirty in the slightest and indeed was in perfect condition after his sojourn under the sea), I placed Ganesh proudly in a seat of honor on my home altar where I keep lots of meaningful bric-a-brac and errata that I pick up. The light shone on Ganesh that night and I felt absolved!
The next morning at work, I decided to look up Ganesh statues on the internet and see what possible significance my rescue of him from the deep might portend. I almost wished I hadn’t.
“Ganesh Chaturthi (IAST: Ga?e–a Chatur?h–, sanskrit: ???? ???????) (Ganesh Festival) is a day on which Lord Ganesha, the son of Shiva and Parvati, is believed to bestow his presence on earth for all his devotees. It is also known as Vinayaka Chaturthi or Vinayaka Chavithi in Sanskrit, Kannada, Tamil and Telugu and as Chathaa (???) in Nepal Bhasa. It is the birthday of Lord Ganesha. The festival is observed in the Hindu calendar month of Bhaadrapada, starting on the shukla chaturthi (fourth day of the waxing moon period). Typically the day falls sometime between August 20 and September 15. The festival lasts for 10 days, ending on Ananta Chaturdashi.Ganesha, the elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati, is widely worshipped as the supreme god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune.
During the Ganesha festival, a household worships a statue of Shri Ganesha. The worship lasts an odd number of days (from 1 to 11 days, sometimes 13).
This festival starting with the installation of beautifully engraved (sculptured) Ganesh idols in colorfully decorated homes and mantapas (pandals) in every locality. People give their contributions for installing Ganesh matapas. The mantapas are depicted by religious themes or current events. The idols are worshipped with families and friends.
Herein, neighborhood Ganeshas are worshiped and brought to immersion sites, where huge crowds gather to bid him an emotional and frenzied farewell.In Pune, as the sun sets over darkening rivers, the images are taken out in boats and as each one is immersed, a cry is raised asking him to return the next year. It is an emotional and public farewell to their beloved god as parthiva (of the earth), who will rise once again the following year.”
Apparently, as that weekend on Saturday/Sunday night, some Hindu believers, after great ceremony and expense, had taken this Ganesh statue and tossed him into the river on purpose as par tof this important autumn ceremony, where he was supposedly to remain and dissolve. Instead, I came along and fished him out of there and he sits now in my bedroom.
In August 2010, I found a wooden elephant in the Butterfly Garden, which is situated about 100 yards from the spot I pulled the Ganesh statute from. Here is a picture of the wooden elephant I found in the GallUp Park Butterfly Garden: