Amar, Akbar and Antony

An iftar party hosted inside a Ganesh pandal at Hyderabad

Some of us groan at the ‘arrival’ of ‘Ganesh festival season’. For it means blocking of roads with pandals of all sizes lodging Ganesh idols. It means a lot of inconvenience in the form of loud prayers, religious music and songs, the detours needed to be taken due to blocking roads and of course the chaos around the pandals every evening for the puja that disrupts our normal routine both at work and at home. Not to forget the literal extortion of money by the organizers as donations to meet the expenses of the 11-day long festivities; or the day of immersion when life comes to a standstill in most cities nowadays.

Yet for some, the Ganesh season heralds a continuous celebration of promotion of everything good in life. The Kabirnagar-Motinagar Ganesh Utsav Samiti in Hyderabad believes in preserving the heritage of Hyderabad — its plural and diverse culture and its spirit of co-existence. So, on the only Friday of the festive season the Samiti hosted an iftar party inside the Ganesh pandal during which about 500 Muslims broke their day-long Ramzan fast.

The Hindus of Motinagar and the Muslims of neighbouring Kabirnagar revived the practice of earlier times when the two communities celebrated their festivals together. This time coincidentally the Ganesh festival was during the month of Ramzan fasting and provided an opportunity to spread the spirit of religious harmony. Ramesh Iyengar, the moving spirit behind the unique initiative of the Samiti said they had demonstrated something that was well known. “Hyderabadis are known for religious tolerance. We don’t believe in spreading hatred in the name of religion,” he said.

His sentiments were echoed by the people teeming around the pandal. Said Shaik Mohinuddin, the president of the Kabirnagar-Poppalaguda Masjid committee: “We feel honoured by the iftar at the Ganesh mandapam. But this is nothing new. For the past few years we have been doing this. We also invite out Hindu brothers for our  functions and festivals,” he said. Why iftar? “Iftar parties strengthen friendships and allow us to share our happiness. This is precisely what Islam preaches,” he said. Subsequently, pastors, priests and Christians of the neighbourhood were similarly feted at the pandal. Inclusiveness is the guiding principle of the Utsav Committee.

Another example set by the committee was to honour the good people of the local community. First on the list were the sanitary workers of the municipality who keep the neighbourhood clean. The committee honoured 60 workers of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation in recognition of their services. As were doctors who conducted a free eye camp for the poor. A local eye hospital agreed to operate, free of cost, 10 poor persons who were found to be suffering from cataract. Similarly a free dental camp was conducted.

A highlight of the celebrations is the daily feeding at the pandal where at least 1000 poor people are fed. “We don’t accept any cash for our programmes. Everything is in kind,” said Iyengar. Thanks to the goodwill generated by such activities there is no shortage of any thing. As Iyengar says good begets good. And one does not need to be well off to do good.

A daily labourer donated 50kgs of rice for the feeding. A local vegetable vendor donated several kilograms of vegetables. When another small vendor wanted to donate flowers (for the diety), he was discouraged. Instead he was asked to donate food items for the daily annadanam “Ours must be the only pandal to feed the poor daily,” said Iyengar.

Iyengar, a self-made entrepreneur, explained that annadanam was a very important part of the Samiti’s activities during the Ganesh festivities. He was inspired by his guruji who taught him that it not only  gives a deep sense of satisfaction to feed a hungry person but shows a deeper meaning. “Food is the only thing in our life which satiates us once it fills our belly. We say enough, enough. Nothing else gives us that feeling. Everything else we want more and more,” he said.

May be wanting more and more is not a bad idea at all if it means more and more of religious harmony, more and more of the spirit of love and friendship between different people, indeed between all people.

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