There is a scene in the film Slumdog Millionaire. The quiz master asks Jamal the protagonist; What does Lord Rama carry in his hands? Scene then cuts to flashback where kids are shown playing in a dirty water tank and a group of women washing clothes nearby. One can see a mob of people approaching the slum. Jamal's mother realizes the danger and screams at the kids to run for life. Jamal with his brother dash away not before they see their mother being hacked to death by mob off Hindus.
As they run through narrow alleys of slums they meet with a child standing in the corner painted in robin blue, hair tied in a knot raising his hand in protection. Young Jamal and his brother come face to face with lord Rama as they run away to save their lives. Scene in the movie is very poignant and in few visuals describe the communal tensions between Hindus and Muslim during Babri Masjid riots in 92.
Presence of 'god' in midst of riot scene in a metropolitan city like Mumbai may look surreal and even 'bollywoodish'. But believe me, it is not. If there is one thing that dominates the streets of Mumbai are gods. Gods of all kinds. Gods of all religion, sects and cults. Every day some god, saint or Guru occupies already busy roads of Mumbai to parade his or her power on the streets of Mumbai showcasing the strength and popularity of his or her sect.
Here are some random examples that show some 'small gods' appearing on the streets of Mumbai.
In the midst of business district in Mumbai's fountain area I stumbled upon lord Shiva and Rama standing next to the car and blessing you for few coins. Bahurupiyas or traditional impersonators as they are called are part of the village landscapes who often migrate to the cities in search of jobs and living. And impersonating gods is best way they can entertain you to earn money.
But gods just don't turn up in person. They appear in every form. In stone. on sanitary tiles . wall graffiti's. Stickers. Posters. banners you name it and a god image is omnipresent in Mumbai city like no other city.
Let me introduce you to Kumar. I met Kumar right outside Churchgate station. As a runaway kid, Kumar loved Mumbai's freedom but he could not forget his hometown of Madurai. Overtime he visited his hometown he brought a god along with him and stuck to the wall which was also his shop. He lived on the streets and conducted his business as shoeshine boy. What attracted me to his shop is his gods that were neatly perched between colourful shoe laces.
And then you have those god posters who rub space along with film stars and other popular images.
One comes across many vendors like these who conduct their business in Fort area just around the national gallery of art.
This is Asif. Asif sells god stickers. He is a muslim boy but sells images of Hindu gods. He inherited his business from his father, who died all of sudden and left Asif the eldest of 5 children to bear the responsibility of looking after the family. His whole business is contained in a small inverted umbrella. When I asked him why an umbrella?, his reply was "municipality staff confiscates wares of the vendor. Moment he comes to know the Municipality staff are coming he can 'shut his shop' quickly. It is simple logistic issue.
Take this migrant worker in UP. who came to city with just clothes on. Set under a tree wondering how to make a living. First thing he did was to set his gods who were just stone. Smooth river stones. Which are worshipped as shaligramas or lord vishnu in anionic form. He began his business as barber . Today along with his barber shop he sell all paraphernalia of gods.
These are few examples of 'small gods' of 'small people' who live on the streets Mumbai. I call them small gods because the power they wield is minuscule. They are everywhere but not so visible. Like their patrons, they are trying to survive. Like their patrons most of them are migrants.
But streets of Mumbai are taken over by two major gods. Lord Krishna and Lord Ganesha. In my next blog I would like to discuss the two major festivals Janmashtami and Ganesh Chaturthi that take over the streets of Mumbai