(Originally in Hindi as Visthapit Vinayak by Viky Arya. Displacement translated by Madhavi S. Mahadevan.)
Setting foot in this office for the first time, one gets the feeling of having arrived at some ultra modern place of work in an European or American metropolis. Fully AC with spacious well-appointed interiors, sleek stylish furniture, walls in pleasing shades and tasteful artwork on those walls. The passages are brightly lit, the cabins are airy, the atmosphere is open and cheerful. Conversation is mostly in English.
In all this one’s glance may suddenly fall on a large grey stone Ganesha placed in a corner. A closer look at the carving may lead one to conclude that it is the work of master craftsmen from South India. Like all such statues, this particular Ganeshji is beautiful. A faint smile plays on his lips suggesting that he is pleased to acknowledge the offering of fresh blooms –white jasmine and yellow marigold –placed respectfully at his feet. There is also a lit incense stick gently dissolving its sandalwood fragrance in the air. It’s clear Ganeshji is worshipped every day. It’s also clear that he is completely out of place here.
I sometimes get the feeling that, notwithstanding the benign smile, there is a slightly frozen quality in his expression, as if Ganeshji were suffering from a ‘culture shock’. Undoubtedly, I am wrong. We happen to be Indians, after all: one thing on the surface, and something altogether different within. For instance, just take a look at that young man approaching Ganeshji. Skinny tight, low waist blue denim jeans, a tight navy blue tee shirt, hair gelled into a rising wave, a tiny goatee adorns his chin and a cloud of aftershave trails behind him. Yet, he never fails to stop before Ganeshji, join his palms in a prayerful gesture, shut his eyes and address the deity for a full five minutes before heading to his desk.
There are many others like him, not the least being our Accountant sahib. While entering the threshold itself, this gentleman bows low as if our office were hallowed space. He does the same before Ganeshji. Only then does he enter his cabin. It was at his insistence at the Board Meeting that the idol was given a prime location inside the office. When he first arrived Ganeshji was the cynosure of all eyes and every passerby stopped to greet him. I am not an idol worshipper but the sight of Ganeshji there gladdened me, as well. I liked to imagine that his gentle smile was a sign that he was pleased at the high regard we held him in. One evening, however, I thought that the smile seemed rather fixed. I understood why the next day. When I arrived at the office, the place seemed different. The prime spot was vacant. Where was Ganeshji?
I searched for him everywhere and found him fixed on to a back wall.
‘What’s this?’ I asked him. ‘You’ve shifted…Did some Feng shui or Vaastu expert advise this transfer?’
He did not reply, but continued to smile bravely.
I couldn’t contain myself and barged straight into Accountant sahib’s cabin.
‘What can I say?’ he said, shaking his head. ‘That Kapur sahib, you know…Well, he just got a promotion.’
‘But what does that have to with displacing our Ganpati?’
‘Promotion means a larger cabin.’ He shrugged. ‘ Everyone has to adjust…What else is one to do? The order came from above.’
He turned back to his paper work.
Months went by. It was all work, work, work. Once in a while my eyes would search out Ganpati and I’d say to him: ‘They’ve pushed you around,too, haven’t they? And now you’ve been allotted this obscure corner. Yet you continue to smile. You are truly great, O merciful one!’
Then one day he was missing from that spot as well. It took me a while to discover his new location, it was even more remote than the last one. Every time there was a rearrangement of space in the office, Ganpati would be moved to yet another little known spot. Isn’t it strange that as a man moves up, he occupies a larger office and the god, by whose grace, this progress occurs, finds his space being diminished? Thoughts such as this came to me, and I’d feel a little sad, but Ganeshji continued to wear his smile, as if saying. ‘Keep on watching…There’s more to come. The story’s not yet over for me.’ Just one tiny reassurance made me feel that it wasn’t downhill all the way for our beloved Ganpati. That was the sight of the fresh flower garland around his neck, and the incense burning at his feet.
A year had passed since I joined the organization. In that time, everyone in the office had maintained his original position in the hierarchy, there had been no major shifts in our situation. Only Ganeshji had moved – some five or six times. These moves marked a continuous decline in his accommodation. It became smaller and increasingly humble. Till the day finally arrived when in this bright, hi-tech office there was no space for him. None at all.
Now he’s been plunked outside the office door. It reminds me of the manner in which some well-to-do folks pack off old decrepit parents to a distant corner of their lives. But Ganeshji continues to raise his palm in blessing, the smile stays on. Or am I wrong? Is it a grimace of pain? Hard to say what that expression means. It could be the grime that hasn’t been dusted off his face for days.