OPERATION BEACH CLEANUP AND THE AFTERMATH OF VISARJAN
Each year, thousands of Ganesha idols are immersed into the sea on visarjan days with pomp and ceremony. But these idols often don't dissolve and, instead, add to pollution in the waters and the beach.
The elephantine gentleman waded into the waters off Versova Beach, bobbed once, twice, thrice, and lo! – Ganesha vanished from the wooden platform in his hands, immersed in the sea. From the shore, his wife raised an arm in farewell with tears in her eyes. She gazed at a distant point where the waves must have carried Ganesha, who took the obstacles in her family’s lives away with Him.
The next family to brave the surf for visarjan encountered an obstacle, tripped over it, and found themselves submerged in the Arabian Sea along with their Ganesha. The first idol was precisely where it had been deposited, intact, and covered with just two shallow feet of brine.
We bring home a God, lavish love upon Him for a few days, and then – with great pomp and ceremony – dump Him in the sea.
A chatter of urchins splashed through the tide, retrieving those Plaster of Paris idols and lining them up on the sands. When I took a photo, a local busybody asked me to delete it; apparently, the artificially created idols – which were supposed to dissolve, representing the cycle of life – are holy, but Nature – whose cycles they disrupt – is not.
A limbless Ganesha, embedded in mud, buffeted by waves, watched the sunset, wondering about His fate.
When I walk onto Versova Beach 12 hours later, there are more stranded Ganeshas than people. Strangers to one another, we wiggle our fingers into disposable gloves with an elastic snap and stride wordlessly to the Juhu end of the seashore. Over the course of one morning, we aim to make Swachh this little stretch of Bharat.
Every open space is a magnet for trash, but we have no trash magnet that can instantaneously attract and collect the thousands of things strewn across the beach. Bend, grasp, proceed; we repeat this routine ad infinitum. The volunteer nearest to me catches my eye and jerks his head at a marooned Ganesha. I nod, and in unison we inhale, heave up the idol, crab-walk to where others are amassed, set it down, and exhale. My gloves are torn already. As we move on to the next section of sand, a teenager refuses to abandon his still-filthy patch: “Yeh adda mera hai.”
It doesn’t matter if the theme of your Ganpati was environmentalism and global warming; undissolved, it still ended up in the back of a pickup truck whose rutted tracks crisscross Versova Beach as it evacuates regiments of Ganeshas. Arms, legs, crowns: sea levels haven’t risen enough to claim them.
The sea is at war with itself. Relentlessly disgorging more garbage on the shore, it also swallows some of it before we can transfer it to a tub of trash. Initially, my garbage route is determined by whichever stray scrap I first clap eyes on. Looking around, I realise that my zigs and zags have skirted a lot of litter; staking out a plot of sand using parts of idols as limit-stones, I focus on clearing one plot at a time.
I decide to specialise in plastics. Tugging at a plastic bag filled with mud and embedded in even more mud, I tug and tug until it rips apart in my hands and I fall flat my arse. From behind me, I hear the roar of a monster vehicle; the driver of a garbage excavator has slowed down so that I may deposit my fistfuls of detritus in its claw. Unexpected kindness.
Our toil is witnessed by two little girls and one little boy squatting on the beach. They’re quite finished but are too captivated by this growing squad of garbage enthusiasts to pull their pants back on. Pooping on the beach is a clichéd sight, but who are these people who brush their teeth by the sea? I hope the tooth fairy goes rogue and leaves cavities under the enamel of everyone who discarded tubes of toothpaste here. If you’re interested in some free market research, I can report that the most preferred brand of packaged milk consumed by those living along Versova beach is Mahananda.
We chase the tide, bend, straighten up, and walk back to the collection tubs, squinting at the rising sun. My T-shirt is splattered with I-know-not-what and has ridden up to expose my waist, guaranteeing a tanned belt-line. I ask a young boy to take my specs off for me so I can mop my sweat with my shoulder. This Operation Clean-up successfully transfers several grains of sand from my sleeve to my face, transforming me into a human cutlet. My hips and knees are issuing appeals to the Joint Committee for Joints, and I have managed to strain my rear to such an extent that the only way I will be able to get out of bed tomorrow is to fall out of it. There’s so much left to clean; how will we finish?
Two to an overfull tub of garbage, we carry our pickings to a garbage truck. We tip it over the back, and a sudden gust blows some of it in my face. The sickly-sweet smell of garbage usually makes me retch, but today – and perhaps, after today – I am immune. A young woman in cut-off denims and aviators is in the back of the truck, hefting in the tubs, hemming herself in with garbage. I think I fell a little bit in love.
I spent two hours by the sea without ever really looking at it. Did we transform Versova Beach to Varca? No. But perhaps the amount of trash we did recover from the sea will ensure that it regurgitates a little less rubbish at Worli Sea Face and Marine Drive. Maybe our extra efforts to pick up those tiny packets of paan will prevent the deaths of a few forms of marine life. And I can only hope that next year, the God of Wisdom will help His devotees see the dearth of wisdom in how they worship Him.
Ganpati Bappa Morya!
Pudhchya varshi buddhi dya.