Ganpati fever hit the city earlier this week and Dharavi was no exception. Ganpati mandals appeared at various locations, as many as six on congested 60 Feet Road. Traffic snarls and the incessant rains added to the chaos, but festival attendees were undeterred. It is now well known that most mandals also host a theme-based light-and-sound show, usually on a socially relevant cause, so that the religious can also be responsible citizens. At the Dharavi Biennale, we went in search of mandals that were spreading awareness on health, sanitation or gender issues. Just like the devout, we walked from mandal to mandal, taking in the resplendent gods and elaborate set designs.
Over at the enthusiastic Hanuman Seva Mandal at Kala Killa, an arrangement of handpainted boards was set up like an orchestra. As a tribute to a 12 year old boy who had succumbed to dengue last year, the mandal’s agenda was to make more people in the area aware of the life-threatening risks posed by vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue. Nikhil Bobade, a 21 year old college graduate, was proud of the work that he and his group had done. 56 controls for spotlights were operated singlehandedly. Giant paper mosquitoes hung overhead, posters on the importance of sanitation mixed with Tom-and-Jerry were all around and a long mosquito net was spread across the room like a football goalpost. “Our script has everything – right from the ways by which malaria spreads to preventive measures. Malaria and dengue happen everywhere, but people feel it happens first in Dharavi. Do you know that the famous filmmaker Yash Chopra also died of malaria?” said Nikhil. This year the mandal is distributing 1000 dustbins to encourage proper waste disposal in their locality.
Last year, the Hanuman Seva Mandal had hosted a similar show on organ donation and enthralled the crowds. They had said that organ donation could be a more purposeful end to a life than burning on a pyre. Some might not agree, but it was an important contemporary message.
As part of our art activities, children gathered at selected mandals and participated in drawing competitions on domestic violence, good food/bad food and malaria. While we were apprehensive that they might be too young to visually take on themes like these, the young artists were confident and kept themselves thoroughly entertained. The mandal organizers were also thrilled to have activities running on otherwise sleepy afternoons.
In Dharavi, as in many parts of Mumbai, religious activities such as these can play a vital role in shaping people's views. The Ganpati mandals embody art in its simpler and perhaps more commercial forms but effectively convey an underlying message on health and social issues. With the right kind of attitude that balances health and social messaging with entertainment, the mandals can go a long way in public engagement. Religion, art and science intersect on these platforms and what could be a better way of stating that cleanliness is next to godliness?