Gateway’s Bappa Saved Lives Then, Keeps All United Now!

By Gajanan Khergamker

The sun was at its peak at 12.50 pm on 25 August 2003, when a taxi drove till the edge of Gateway of India where buses would be parked. A heat-harried parking attendant rushed in to stop taxi-driver Shivnarayan Pandey and told him to park his vehicle elsewhere. 

STANDING TALL: The Ganpati Mandap at the Gateway of India
Kis kis ko bolneka…dikhta nahin ki yahan tourist bus hi park hote hai,” he muttered to a hawker giving final touches to the decorations of a local Ganpati Mandal set up to receive Bappa on 30 August. The taxi-driver parked his vehicle at the parking lot opposite the Taj Mahal Palace and left for lunch. Moments later, the taxi blew up in a blast triggered by gelatin sticks and RDX, placed in the boot of the taxi. The taxi-driver, however, escaped unscathed as he had left for lunch. 

In another taxi blast around the same time, at Zaveri Bazaar, among the 27 killed was the driver of the taxi. While the blast at Gateway of India left 25 people dead, the losses would have been enormous if the taxi had been parked near the Mandap from where it was moved. 

It was sheer providence and the blessings of Bappa that left hundreds of locals, tour guides, ferry workers, photographers and those involved with the Ganpati Mandal safe and secure. Why, it was the survivor taxi-driver Shivnarayan Pandey’s sketches of the accused which led to their final arrest and conviction.

DEVOUT: Locals and tourists line up for darshan outside the pandal
The celebrations from 30 August on Ganesh Chaturthi when the idol arrived till its visarjan, ten days later, were sombre yet special. Bappa had ensured the safety of them all, they vouched…and continue to do so till date, almost two decades later. 

So, even though the much-awaited film screenings for public during Ganeshutsav have stopped, the celebrations, that took a backseat during the last two years owing to COVID, have resumed with fervour. The ritualistic aartis, the frenzied photo-shoots by tourists and bhandara for the poor are back and with a bang. 

This year, however, the members of the Gateway of India Ganpati Mandal are excited yet a wee nervous. After a long hiatus owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing restrictions on public gatherings and events, this year marked new beginnings. The members were exhilarated to bring Bappa just the way they wanted, without restrictions.

SAVIOUR: The Mandal members believe Bappa has been protecting them always
Among the oldest Ganpati Mandals of the area, “the Mandal initiated Ganeshutsav in 1980 and has, ever since, have been hosting the same every year, without fail,” says Treasurer Rangan Vaneer also a tour guide at the Gateway of India.  

The ten-day-long Ganeshutsav celebrated by the Mandal would earlier culminate with a visarjan at Machchimar Nagar. “This year, like we’ve started since the Pandemic began, we will perform the visarjan at Gateway of India itself,” offers Secretary Sanju Shetty, a hawker at Gateway of India.

The pandemic changed many things for the Mandal. The donations had dwindled, and the sponsors too were hard to find owing to slack business. Yet, it has been the collective contributions from hawkers at the Gateway of India promenade, the Gateway of India plaza, photographers, tour guides, etc., which made it possible for Bappa to be hosted with fanfare this year. 

GRATEFUL: The core members of the Mandal beam with pride as they pose with their Bappa
Core members of the Bharatdwar Mitra Mandal - Gateway of India that also include Krishna Kumar, Rakesh Shinde, Kanhaiyalal Chaurasia, Jitendra Kumar Nirmal are simply exhilarated with the response from the general public who continue to stream through the Mandap to pay their respects.

And once again, on the eight day, the Mandal will organise a bhandara as is the rule every year which will be attended by devotees from the entire area. Wadala-based Pandit Sanjay Mishra who performs the rituals and the aarti through the ten days of the festival here has been associated with the Mandal since 2006. Mishra’s patience, as thousands of passers-by and tourists visiting the Gateway of India or to and from Elephanta Island stop by for a darshan, as he ensures all receive the ceremonial 'prasad', is exemplary.

The local community comprises hawkers, photographers, boat owners and ferry workers, tourist guides and other involved in the organic processes associated with tourism at the Gateway of India. “We are fortunate that people donated with whatever they could for the mandal,” says Rangan. 

In a heart-warming gesture, despite the financial crunch owing to slack business over the recent years, and being Muslim, the lot of boat owners donated to the Mandal for the Ganeshutsav. And, why not, considering it was Bappa who saved hundreds of lives in 2003, even Muslim lives.

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