Spurred by devotion for Bappa, this Mandal struggles to feed the poor

By Manu Shrivastava

South Mumbai’s Sarvajanik Ganesh Utsav Mandal Churchgate Hawker's members are in a quandary: The Mandal, that has been hosting a Sarvajanik Ganpati every year, since its registration in 2013, is now struggling to make ends meet.

President Anand Jadhav, Treasurer Mani Naidu, Deputy President Ganesh Pillay, Secretary Rajni Shetty and members are praying for a miracle. This year, the hawkers have not been able to collect enough money and are hoping help will come in before the celebrations begin.

HOPEFUL: Mandal members await a divine intervention
They have managed to pool in their individual resources and buy a five-foot tall idol for Rs 12,000 but are yet struggling to arrange its transportation from the idol shop in Colaba Market to the Mandal at Churchgate and then, after ten days, till Chowpatty for its visarjan.

Mandal member and driver Kailash Thakre, has for years together, volunteered to bring the idol to and from the Mandap. Earlier, benevolent businessmen from the area would lend them a vehicle to bring the idol to the Mandap and, after ten days, to Chowpatty for the visarjan. However, for the last two-three years, they haven’t got a vehicle and are now hoping someone offers help by either lending a vehicle or helping fund one. 

Member Kailash Thakre
During the COVID-19 lockdown, and owing to governmental restrictions, they got a two-and-half-foot tall idol. Ganesh Pillay, who has been polishing shoes at Churchgate Station's Platform No 2 since 1993, recalls the first Sarvajanik Ganeshutsav Mandal. The Coimbatore native now lives at Govandi. 

He says, "I bought my spot at the station and got a licence in 2016. I have been a part of the Mandal since the very beginning. Over the years, we lost many founders and members yet others joined in and we managed to organise the Ganeshutsav celebrations every year. However, the last few years have been tough and this year, neither of us have the capacity to now fund the event."

Deputy President Ganesh Pillai
"We want to host a Bhandara this year too as always also as many poor people from far and wide such as Virar, Nalasopara come to eat but we don’t even have the minimum expenditure that includes money for the utensils, cook, helpers, raw material, etc.," says Mani Naidu.

Member Sunny Jadhav who belongs to a hawker’s extended family, and lives near Budhwar Park, says he has been coming to the Mandal and helping since he was a child. Another member Balu Goregaonkar who works as a cleaner and lives in the vicinity says, “As every year, things will work out this year too." 

A file pic of a Bhandara hosted by the Mandal
Treasurer Mani Naidu came to Mumbai from Tamil Nadu's Uthiramerur village in 1979 and made the city his home. He would sell tea on the pavement outside Government Law College but had to shut shop when the hawkers were removed from the zone in 2004.

"Since I joined the Mandal, I have been working to organise the event every Ganeshutsav. My only wish is for the Mandal to continue, anyhow. Even if it means that someone else runs it. I know that once it shuts down, it won't start again," he maintains.

Treasurer Mani Naidu
Madurai native and Secretary Rajni Shetty is a hawker selling knick-knacks outside Churchgate station near the bus-stop. He says every year some member or the other would pitch in and we would manage to organise the event at the Mandal. But now, we have all exhausted our resources and savings and need help.”

The Churchgate Hawker's Sarvajanik Ganpati Mandal yet gets old-time devotees lining up for darshan during the ten-day festival. For example, an old taxi-stand group of drivers yet arrive, almost religiously, only on the last day of pooja. 

A file pic of the Mandal's first Ganeshutsav
The Mandal’s torchbearers have been striving hard to keep it going despite personal financial burdens. In 2017, Deputy President Ganesh Pillai had to mortgage wife Sugandha's mangalsutra for Rs 35,000 to help to the Mandal.

President Anand Jadhav has personally lent Rs 2.5 lakh since 2013 to the Mandal during the festival. "Only when we get enough donation will we be able to return the loans. Every year, we have been running into losses," says Mani Naidu. 

Gauri with son Prem
The Mandal has been thronged by the local poor for decades now. Mangu D'Souza and her daughter Gauri Sonar have been regulars. Gauri recalls how, as a child living near Churchgate station, she would enjoy the celebrations during Ganeshutsav.

"After marriage in 2005, I moved to Malad but till date, during Ganeshutsav, I come here with my family to be part it. Bappa has fulfilled all my wishes till date. In 2012, after giving birth to two daughters, I prayed to Bappa to give me a boy and he blessed me with Prem who is 11 years of age today."

Mangu's niece Ratna Kale who too lived on the road near the station before shifting to a nearby road, a few years ago says, "During the eleven days Bappa is here, I am elated. I feel he should not go but be with us longer." Also, mother to three, she too had prayed to Bappa at the Mandap for a boy while expecting her third child. She delivered 'Vinayak' who is now 12 years old.

Ratna with son Vinayak
This year too, Churchgate Hawker's Sarvajanik Ganesh Utsav Mandal is expecting a miracle through divine intervention, as is always the case. President Anand Jadhav, Treasurer Mani Naidu, Deputy President Ganesh Pillai, Secretary Rajni Shetty and the other members have been waiting for help to come from any quarter. 

With old residents and patrons of the Utsav having moved out of the Churchgate zone, the Mandal has run dry of funds and finances. “We don’t need money, one can even help us with the food, transport or resources for the Bhandara we want to keep for the poor,” they say.

And, for one with the means and spurred by devotion for Bappa will ensure someone, somewhere will get that one square meal at the Mandap’s Bhandara on that day! Till then, the Mandal’s members will have to keep the faith. 

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