Nihar Desai wanders around the by lanes of Hollywood basti, exploring the lives of the statue makers that give Ganesha shape and form.
As the elephant headed God is set to arrive and destroy the obstacles of his devotees, the slums of Gulbai tekra, better known as the Hollywood basti, are chaotic and festive.
Vibrant, astounding and humungous Ganesh idols fill up the temporary sheds specially set up for the birth of the lord from Shaadu matti (a type of river clay). Many artists claim to use this form of clay, though the smaller ones are Plaster of Paris or POP casts.
Oddly situated amidst affluent surroundings, the slum is known for thriving on casting and selling Ganesh idols of surprising forms, for the past forty years.
It’s a quaint alternate reality where people here sell God, literally. “It has been an age old profession, that’s been in my family for more than a century”, says Ganeshbhai Devabhai, a handicapped artisan amongst the many residing in the musty slum.
He is one of the oldest sculptors in the area and claims that, for him, creating idols is his form of worship. “The income is secondary. I feel privileged to be part of this process,” he says.
Walk around and you will see workshops full of inspiration and plenty of examples of intricate workmanship. It’s humbling to look at gargantuan statues of Ganesh all around. Soon, you realise that there is a love for the art and a reverence for the deity that comes through and is worthy of appreciation.
The slum houses close to 7,000 dwellers who are mostly Rajasthani Marwadis and Northern Gujaratis. They work as sculptors before festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi and Navaratri. During the rest of the year, they survive by taking up odd jobs and working as domestic help in the community.
Walking through the narrow filth strewn alley ways, its difficult to ignore the irony, but at the end, it’s easy to see that working for the deity gives them more than just monetary rewards but sustains their sense of worth and being part of something bigger.