A 'Doctor' for Ganesh Idols

Tinku Tudu is a carpenter who dismantles Ganesh idols after the 'Visarjan' to collect the remaining wood and use it as fuel.

Bhubaneswar: Tinku Tudu got up very early in the morning. The sun was yet to rise. Upon seeing his wife and two children in deep sleep, he set out on his bicycle to the nearest canal where he saw many Ganesh idols, which had been immersed the previous night. Tudu is a Santhali from Mayurbhanj. He migrated to the city of Bhubaneswar in search of livelihood around five years ago. Although he could not immediately find a suitable opportunity, he decided to work as a daily wage labourer, as well as a carpenter. Within a year-and-a-half, Tudu was able to master the skillful and artistic work of carpenters.

When he came to the city, Tinku was newly married. Earning Rs 150 to Rs 200 would allow him and his wife to lead a fairly comfortable life. However, now, with two children – two- and four-years-old – things are a little different. “It is very difficult for me these days. Managing a family of four especially when there are small children, with a meagre Rs 200 per day is hard,” says Tudu, as he parks his bicycle beside the canal bridge before waking down the steep slope adjacent to it to get into the water.

Tudu getting into the water. Credit: Author provided.

A storage canal that is dying

The Raghunathpur canal, as it is popularly called in the city of Bhubaneswar, is a storage canal which was dug for storing water during rainy seasons. It is situated between the highly overrated Patia (a posh real-estate area) and the Nandankanan Zoological Park. Earlier, the communities who lived nearby, primarily farmers, used it to bathe and finish their morning ablutions. They also diverted the water for agricultural purposes when required. On festive occasions, the community gathered to catch fish from this canal. “These days, we don’t see anyone coming here to take bath. The water has become so dirty because of the high-rises that have come up in the vicinity. The residents of the flats throw their waste directly into this canal,” says Sanju, who had come there to finish his morning routine.

Tudu and the abandoned Ganesh idols

Tudu has been collecting plywood and bamboo sticks that go into the making of the Ganesh idols for the last three years. Every year, just after the day of Ganesh Visarjan, he sets out with his long knife to the pull out the wood from the idols. When asked what he would do with the wood collected, Tudu replies, “These idols lie abandoned here. There is no life in them. The wood and the ply inside can be used to cook food. It is wet now. But, once I dry it in the sun, we can use it as fuel when we cook.” In despair, he adds, while hitching up his lungi, “It is very difficult to fetch wood in cities. It is expensive here. When I was in Mayurbhanj, getting wood wasn’t much of a problem although we were restricted and harassed many times by forest officials from our own lands.”

The idols of Lord Ganesh in the water are glittering – some face the sky, while others face the bottom of the canal. The pieces of clothing used to cover the idols are gradually floating away in the water, which now has a layer of oil on its surface, indicating that the idols were made of plaster of paris and chemical paint.

Tudu with the Ganesh idol. Credit: Author provided

The dissection of Lord Ganesha’s idol

When we start walking further near the water, we see four large-sized and many smaller Ganesha idols floating in the water. “Yesterday,” Tudu says, “I saw the idols being thrown into the water from the top the bridge. What people don’t understand is that throwing and immersion are not the same act,” and bursts into laughter. He walks steadily to the centre of the canal where water is knee high and catches hold of a large Ganesh idol, dragging it towards him so that he can begin dismantling it in order to take out the wood from inside.

He takes out his knife, which has been tucked into a towel tied around his head. He cuts open the throat and pulls out the large elephant trunk of Lord Ganesh. Then, he carefully takes out the heavy jewels around the idol’s neck. He removes the mud and the straws that have been stuffed inside the head to keep in place the large bamboo stick which has been tied to the idol’s back so that it could sit upright. As he begins dismantling the idol, flowers flowed around the idol, as blood would have with humans. Eventually, Tinku, cut open the shoulders and chest to remove the small ply woods that were attached within idol. Finally, he rips off the idol’s leg with his large knife in order to take the large planks of wood on top which the idol was placed so that it could appear as if Lord Ganesh was sitting comfortably.

Tudu dismantling the idol. Credit: Author provided

The joy of being a doctor

That morning, Tudu manages to collect around eight kilos of wood and ply which he said would help him cook food for around five days. As soon as he collects the wood he required, he pulls the heavy logs of wood and ply towards his bicycle. The morning sun is rising right behind him. In sheer joy, Tudu sang a Santhali song:

Nao Jibon rasi Jobn,

Noa Jibon ado bam nama

Enej jong me sereng jong me

Raska jong me

Noa Jibon ado bam nama

To make me understand the few lines he sang, he says, “Life is full of pleasure. Once it goes away, it cannot return. So, always sing, dance and be happy”. Dragging the collected wood to his bicycle, Tudu says, “He [the lyricist] feels very uncomfortable to live in a city which does not dance and sing in the open. We are Santhalis we just need a reason for us to drink, sing and dance.”

Tudu ties all the woods he had collected to his bicycle and says with a laugh, “I felt like a doctor performing an operation today. Am I not a doctor too?” We then bid good bye to each other.

Rajaraman Sundaresan is social science mimic and is currently with Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS), Bhubaneswar, Odisha.