While you were sleeping...

Fiona FernandezIf you were planning to give this armchair read a pass, imagining it to be an ode by a Sandra Bullock or Bill Pullman fan about the saccharine-heady romcom by the same title; well, this isn’t.

Quite the opposite of an ode, this is more of a plea to the big daddies responsible for Mumbai’s tourism who seem to have been caught napping when they missed a trick in the book on World Tourism Day, which was yesterday.

Barring the odd mention on nation pages of daily newspapers, about the decrepit state of Agra and its monuments, we drew a blank on news about cohesive plans, dedicated initiatives or structure projects that coincided with the day, at least until this column went to print.

It’s no rocket science to conclude that the city’s biggest, most spectacular festival is Ganesh Chaturthi. And, we make no bones to showcase the pride and pomp that comes along with the ten days of celebration and reverence, which draws crowds from across India and beyond. With an office that is a stone’s throw away from the iconic Lalbaugcha Raja and several other big-ticket Ganesh mandals, one was privy to the buzz, colour and splendour that are typical to this locality. While the civic authorities, police and local citizens need to be applauded for the manner in which massive crowds were controlled, without causing too much stress to pedestrians and traffic, the festival could have been marketed to the non-Mumbai tourist in a big way, we believe.

Apart from Mumbaikars, we noticed Tamilians, Gujaratis, Kashmiris and Bengalis from their home states make a beeline to seek blessings. We also came across many American, Japanese and Spanish tourists who braved the melee, to catch a glimpse of the elephant god in all its divine splendour. Amid it, we overhead a group of expats remark that the festival was a great example of the city’s cosmopolitan vibe. We think so too.

To drum up things, why couldn’t bus trails to the city’s top Ganesh mandals have been organised by the state tourism department? The itinerary could have included some of its oldest surviving venues, the most prestigious, richest, and unique (for its mega sized sets) mandals, and of course, Lalbaug’s pride and joy. Having followed the city’s heritage and travel beat for a while now, one has noticed that such initiatives (like trails through the city’s prized Ganesh murti workshops) are almost always conducted either by organisations like Alliance Française or by city heritage walk groups. But one has never heard of an officially sanctioned, planned itinerary to showcase the Ganesh festival to tourists from the rest of India and the world. Such ventures will not only showcase this event but will also be another medium to bring in revenue. The same tourists we spot (and smirk at) seated in air-conditioned tourist buses, clicking away at Slumdog Millionaire-inspired sites and sounds including Dhobi Ghat and Dharavi, could have so easily have been in the middle of this heady, celebratory experience (Remember Spain’s La Tomatina Festival being featured in Zoya Akhtar’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara?).

One cannot but ask — isn’t this festival an integral part of our cultural heritage that deserves to be showcased and presented to a global audience?

— The writer is Features Editor, MiD DAY¬†

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