A casual encounter with Ganesh

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The hazy, dizzy feeling of the beginning of a new academic year has lasted, at least for reluctant fourth years such as myself, for over a week now. Deciding that it really is time to stop day-dreaming and to start reading anything, I’ve been reminded of a previous awkward encounter I had with the Hindu god Ganesh, often referred to as the ‘Lord of Beginnings’.

I was assembling a miniature nativity scene on the mantelpiece a few days before Christmas. (In my parents’ house, decorations are only permitted for a minimal period. They hate disorder more than they love the holiday season, clearly. I promised not to tell Jesus.) I became aware that a small metal statue of the god Ganesh had casually sidled up to one of the wise men, Balthazar probably, flexing his trunk in a rambunctious manner. Perhaps Ganesh had noticed that a shepherd was missing, smashed in a since-prohibited indoor football game the previous year. Ganesh probably wished to put his four arms to use in the business of herding two startled sheep, or of keeping the wise men in the correct order. The potentially offensive nature of the situation is what made it all so awkward that I immediately had to banish Ganesh to the opposite end of the mantelpiece, where he settled in for the evening with two incarnations of Buddha; the fat jolly one and the seriously enlightened one. Ganesh, often also present in Buddhism, looked considerably more comfortable in the company of these eastern icons.

After the stable’s inhabitants had been returned to their box, and the various international souvenirs were free to take their usual places in the living room unbothered, it was inevitably that period in which major changes are attempted. When dawn creeps up on exhausted revellers on New Year’s Day, it is often expected that a fresh start will follow speedily in its wake. When you’re walking along that intermittent white line in the road at the end of the year, with swaying party-goers all around, and too much tequila buzzing in your brain, there is nowhere brighter than that midnight. Of course, this feeling of expectation is soon rebuked by grey skies and failed diets. Ganesh, the aforementioned ‘Remover of Obstacles’, is obviously still miffed about my Nativity-related gaffe. How naïve I was to have believed that change would be easy. And yet, the optimism of a new year prevails.

For us students, a second try at a fresh start is, mercifully, allowed. Thank God for that, because twenty-somethings (notice that I’m about to make a generational generalisation when I’m really just referring to myself) can be pretty terrible at new beginnings. I have tried to reinvent myself almost every year since I was twelve years old, but all I’ve really done so far is gradually evolve from someone with glasses and braces, into someone with contacts and marginally nicer underwear than before, who says embarrassing things like “Rodin really stresses me out”. Even though most of us (again, mostly me) fail at making a completely fresh start most of the time, the giddy moments at the start of a new semester, when we wonder whether to dye our hair or join a new society, should be relished.

Colin Hay, lead singer of Men At Work and eminent philosopher, deftly summarises my feelings towards change at this time of year: ‘Don’t you understand? I already have a plan. I’m waiting for my real life to begin.’ The man is a poet.

And I have indeed adopted a system of stopping still on the first day of a new semester, and waiting for change to wash over me. I guess my real life has already begun. The phase I’ve been going through for the past eight years or so could almost be called ‘my personality’ at this point. But, just in case I manage to pull off a fresh start this year, I started writing this column as my ‘new thing’. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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