The Divine Thief 

‘’Vasuuuuu…..” Ma screamed for the tenth time that day.

“ Dare you touch these Modaks again….they are for my Ganesha.” Mother warned Vasu and lovingly went on to arrange the modaks on the banana leaf.

“ But ……I swear I didn’t touch them..” Vasu protested in vain.

What was happening?? Someone was stealing the delicious modaks meant for Ganesha and Vasu was getting all the blame.

It was that time of the year when the whole village ….in fact, the whole world was in the grip of festive fever. It was Ganesha Chaturthi !!! Markets were flooded with people shopping for the big occasion, buying clothes and jewelry, and traditional sweetmeats. Women were busy making crescent-shaped Nevryos stuffing them with coconut and jaggery or preparing the round Puran polis, rounder laddoos, and even shev and  shankarphali. There was a delicious aroma in the air.

But what excited Vasu the most during Chaturthi was the beautifully crafted Ganesha idols. The statues under the delightful Matolis (canopies)were painted in a riot of colors, red,  orange, and even a bright yellow!! Some of the statues were over fifteen feet tall !!! The idols were fancifully decorated with precious jewelry and sometimes even real gold. All households welcomed the divine guest for a week.

A day before the D day, Vasu came running home from school and went straight to his father’s workshop. Being a skilled potter his father or Bapui as he fondly called him had promised to keep  Ganesha’s idol ready for Vasu before noon.

And Bapui had indeed kept his word. All through the day he had toiled hard on his potter’s wheel and created Ganesha from raw clay. Vasu’s grandfather or Azoh had then lovingly painted the idol with natural homemade dyes.

But Vasu’s excitement had turned into disappointment the moment he set his eyes on the simple clay statue before him. It was less than a foot tall and nowhere even close to the dazzling and lavish idols at the homes of his friends. Now how would he bring them home to show off the small and plain clay statue? He was really worried.

But very soon this worry was left behind as there was an even greater worry to worry about!!!

It so happened that each time Vasu’s mother would keep the freshly made modaks in front of the idol, they would disappear!!! Quite obviously, Vasu was the prime suspect. Only, he wasn’t the modak thief.

Vasu had to clear his name somehow…anyhow…

So that afternoon while everyone else was taking the afternoon nap, Vasu was cleverly hiding behind the floral curtains in the pooja room.

It was a warm afternoon and having overstuffed his stomach didn’t help either.  Soon Vasu was drifting in and out of sweet slumber.

Suddenly he heard a strange noise ‘ “ Munch…crunch….chomp…’’. He rubbed his eyes wide open and peeped out of the curtain. There was the thief, feasting on the delicious modaks!!!

It was none other than Ganesha! Vasu looked on in wonder and surprise as Ganesha’s clay trunk grew longer and longer and reached out to the modaks spread out on the banana leaf. His clay eyes darted right and left to make sure that no one was looking and then very skillfully he rolled his trunk around a modak and in a swift motion popped it right into his clay mouth, a satisfied smile playing mischievously on his clay lips.

“ So you are the modak thief?? And all this while I have been getting all the scolding..” Vasu came out of hiding and complained.

“ Oh! I’m Sorry. But your mother makes such delicious modaks….I just can’t help it..” Ganesha apologized.

“ Well, It’s O.K I guess. They were meant for you after all.” Vasu softened down.

“ Hey Vasu, are you ready ?” A boy’s voice suddenly interrupted the conversation.

“ Oh! I forgot. I promised Rishi that we would go around the village to look at all the beautiful Ganesha idols..” Vasu turned to Ganesha and explained.

“ Coming in a minute…” He shouted back to Rishi.

“ Hey!! Would you like to come with us too???” Vasu looked at the clay idol and asked.

“ Sure. I’d love to.’” The statue’s face brightened up and his cheeks turned dark red with excitement at the invitation.

Vasu carefully placed the Ganesha idol inside a loose cloth bag and slung it across his shoulders before going out.

“ Hey! What’s that inside your bag?” Rishi asked curiously staring at the bulge inside the bag.

“ Oh! Just some stuff Azoh wanted delivered ….” Vasu lied.

And the friends embarked on an eventful journey……

They made their first stop at Shankar Desai’s house. A giant statue more than seven feet tall stood on a raised platform that had a beautifully carved gateway, a string of electric lights outlining it. Vasu looked on in fascination as the lights flickered and danced !! He and Rishi greedily helped themselves to the lavish spread of sweets. Vasu even sneaked in a few modaks inside his bag and they disappeared within seconds.

At Raghu’s house, Ganesha was decorated with dazzling ornaments. And why not? His father was a jeweler after all !! Raghu’s mother applied a kumkum tika on their foreheads and even gifted them a box of Kaju barfi !!!!

And thus the threesome went from house to house wishing everyone a happy Chaturthi and stuffing their stomachs with yummylicious treats. Only Vasu had to gently tap the trunk of Ganesha each time his head would dangerously pop out of the bag to look at the displays.

To make things worse, Rishi would stare suspiciously at the strange bag that wriggled and shook each time they were near the delicious sweets !!!

It was evening. The sky was painted in hues of red and pink as the sun slowly withdrew into its heavenly shell.

Tired and out of breath, Vasu plopped down on the roots of a Banyan tree that doubled up as a comfortable bench while Rishi went to the grocer’s store to buy some candies.

Suddenly a dazzling display of colors lit up the grey sky as a volley of firecrackers exploded. Vasu looked on in fascination at the beautiful patterns being formed in the heavens above.

‘Boom Boom Bang…” the sound of the firecrackers echoed in all directions.

‘Dham Dum Dum’ peppy drum beats thumped in a distance.

“ &**&**….” music from the pandals added to the merry cacophony.

The festivities were in full swing…….

Vasu sighed, wishing that his family would celebrate the festival with such pomp and show too.

He took out the idol from the bag so that Ganesha could stretch his legs a little till too before Rishi returned. Vasu placed the statue beside him and screamed in horror!

What had happened to poor Ganesha??  His body was swollen up with red rashes that had erupted all over his clay body!  He was scratching everywhere and coughing too. He looked in pain.

‘ What…what’s wrong?” Vasu asked with genuine concern.

“ It’s the paint that my dear children use to color my idols. It contains harmful chemicals and dyes. It makes me itch all over. See it’s even caused these rashes.”

“ …..and all this smoke from the firecrackers makes me cough….and the loud noises make my head spin.” Ganesha explained.

“ Let’s go home,’’  Vasu suggested. Ganesha nodded his elephant head happily.

Vasu bade farewell to Rishi and ran back home. He placed the idol back in the pooja room. Thank God no one had realized that the statue had been missing.

“ Tell me Ganesha, which statue did you like the most in the entire village?” Vasu asked curiously almost half guessing that the answer would be Raghu’s enormous idol.

‘ Why, this clay one of course..” replied Ganesha much to the surprise and confusion of the little boy.

“ Don’t you get it, my dear boy? I chose this clay idol above all the other’s as it was so lovingly carved out by Bapui and painted on with so much devotion by Azoh…with nature’s own precious harmless raw materials …and that’s why I’m here.”

“ But the real reason why I  chose to reside in this idol is these…” Ganesha mischievously pointed towards the modaks.

“ …these delicious yummy modaks so dotingly prepared by ma and Ajji ! ” Ganesha winked before popping in the tasty offering.

“ Vasu !!! Not again…” Just then Ma entered the room and to her horror found some modaks missing again. Ganesha quickly stuffed the modaks inside his cheeks and became still.

Didn’t Ganesha’s cheeks look swollen up? Like two round modaks…” Ma wondered as she knelt down. She ought to have her eyesight checked again…

“ But Ma, I swear I didn’t go anywhere near the modaks…” Vasu tried in vain as the mother arranged some freshly prepared nevroys on the plate.

She left the room giving Vasu a stern, warning look.

The moment Ma left, Ganesha’s trunk was wrapped around the crescent delights.

“Watch out! Ma’s back… !!’ Vasu cried out. He was lying of course.

Ganesha froze, his trunk still around the nevroy.

“ Guilty as a thief !!!” Vasu laughed heartily.He was soon joined by the divine guest who broke into a divine merry cackle even as his round belly wriggled with merriment.

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