As most of the city wound up its celebrations Thursday by bidding goodbye to the elephant god Ganesh, a man and his team were gearing up to give Ganesh a proper farewell by the seaside. While the visarjan party wound down for most people by 12 am, for this group the night was just starting.
Antariksh Desai (26), and his team of 93 volunteers had the busiest day with their day starting at 3pm and ending at 4am Friday morning. “Since the sand on the beach is soft and wet, idols kept on it for a long time tend to start sinking in. Devotees find it difficult to pick up that much weight for the emersion, and that’s where we come in.” Basically, Desai said, it was their self-appointed job to help revelers and the authorities alike to have a safe and smooth visarjan.
But the job does not end there for Desai, who has been putting together such a team every Ganesh Chaturthi for the past 8 years. Once all the visarjan ceremonies were performed, the team stayed back till the early hours of the morning, giving a final touch to the job done by the devotees. Desai says, “This year, the deadline to end celebrations was pushed to 12 am instead of 10 pm, which has been the deadline for the last few years. So, many of the pandals performed visarjan at midnight, when the tide was quickly receding. Hence, most of the idols were emersed haphazardly, and were strewn along the exposed seabed. We picked such idols, went farther into the sea, and emersed them.”
The number of volunteers, the strength of which varies every year, was 93 this year, of whom 20 were women.
This event draws volunteers from all walks of life, and they become aware of it through social media and word-of-mouth. “The volunteers were divided into groups of 15 and all the groups were working along the coast of Dadar Chowpatty. There was a rotational system in place, but since so much ground had to be covered, everyone was working at once,” Desai said.
According to him, there are equal advantages and disadvantages of working during the lonely hours of the night. The tide, for one, usually recedes in the night-time, so it makes work easier for the team. Moreover, more police personnel are present as night sets in, so managing the remaining crowd is a breeze. “Obviously, police command authority. If we try to control the crowd, they rebel because they think we should not be correcting them. So having the police around is a huge help.”
The disadvantage, on the other hand, is the lack of a secure structure where the volunteers can stow away their belongings when they are working, or relax in when they are free. “I don’t expect anything of this type from the authorities, but it would definitely make our work easier”, Desai said.
The volunteers were provided with food and certificates by him, but no other remuneration is promised, he clarified. “The funding for this is done wholly by me; I know that if we ask for sponsorship we might even get, but then their interests and our interests might clash.”
An advocate and an avid swimmer by day, Desai explained that this initiative was started by a team of swimmers who wanted to be of help in chaotic times like visarjan, and put their skill in swimming to good use. “After the first few times, the police contacted us and also promised certificates. And then there was no looking back,” Desai added.