This is the story of a locality in Ahmedabad, where there is beauty and filth in equal proportions. The locality, called Gulbai Tekra, is largely a slum, nestled in between the busy Gujarat University Road and CG Road. Heaps of garbage and small shack-like houses make an appearance as soon as you enter into the area, as do small temples of largely rurally-worshipped gods.
This is, however, no ordinary slum. It is the ‘Hollywood’ of Ahmedabad, thanks to the rustic charm and beauty of the women here, who are no less than Hollywood beauties. (Click on that link and you will know exactly what I am talking about!) The term ‘Hollywood’ is often used disparagingly for the locality as well, implying that it is very different from the rest of Ahmedabad, which is, by leaps and bounds, growing into a mega city.
Another reason for which this locality is famous is its becoming a hub for making idols of Lord Ganesha in the festival months. About a couple of months before Ganesh Chaturthi, the area comes alive with creativity. The residents – young and old, men and women – get busy making idols in an array of forms, colours and materials. Ganesha idols in different stages of formation are all over – in small plastic tents, on the roadside, inside houses, just about everywhere. This is why the locality has another name too – Ganesha galli.
‘Aapna Amdavad nu Hollywood’ has been in the news quite a bit. Every year, mostly around Ganesh Chaturthi, there are articles about the place in most newspapers, and I used to read them with great interest. This slum called Hollywood has always held a special significance for me. The school that I studied in, the colleges from which I did my graduation and post-graduation were all located at a stone’s throw from Gulbai Tekra, and I passed through the place quite routinely. The place always amazed me, for the same reason – its sheer tenacity and the will to go on, in the midst of heavy rain or intense heat or natural calamity. This is the place that taught me for the first time in life that ‘Creativity does not need a big label. It just is.’ The thousands of forms that these humble slum dwellers gave to their Ganeshas spoke about their creativity, and did not need any advertisement.
I had always wanted to do a photo story about this place, but I never got around to doing it earlier. On my recent visit to Ahmedabad, I got a chance to visit the area a few days before Ganesh Chaturthi, and found it all abuzz with activity. I saw my chance to take those photographs that I had always wanted to, and do that story.
Let me take you on a tour of the Ganesha hub, the Ahmedabadi Hollywood…
Citizens of Ahmedabad flock to Gulbai Tekra to buy the Ganesha idol that will grace their home every year. They get a lot to choose from.
Ganeshas vary from traditional to quirky to fun to meaningful. I am always amazed at how versatile a god Ganesha is, how he can be easily moulded into any shape that you want.
Gulbai Tekra is full of many hues just before Ganesh Chaturthi. You can have your heart’s fill of colours here.
‘My Ganesha is bigger and better than yours’ is a competition that we have seen oh-so-often between different organisations and societies. Gulbai Tekra has huge, beautiful statues in thousands of forms for these competitors, making the choice of one a very difficult decision.
You get to see Ganeshas in the process of being formed, artists busy at work, their faces puckered up in concentration. Most of them welcome you with a charming smile, are extremely pleased to have their photograph taken, and marvel at technology when you show them the photograph that you have taken immediately.
You hear the whoops of joy when people find the perfect Ganesha that will accompany them home and adorn their prayer rooms. You can see a small pooja being done, and then, the idol being carted off with shouts of ‘Ganpati Bappa Morya!’.
And then, there are the pretty, innocent faces, and the pleading with you to take a photograph of theirs. There are lovely smiles, poses, and jumps and whoops of joy when you oblige them. And such experiences make up the heart of the entire visit to a place, I feel.
It is sad that these people have to live in such poverty, when they are doing such a magnificent job. Years have passed, festivals have come and gone, a countless number of idols have been made and sold, sometimes to faraway lands as well, but Gulbai Tekra has remained the same.
I wasn’t ready to bid farewell to all this colour, smiles, creativity and fervour and return home, but I had to. I had been there for a couple of hours, and had to rush home to get ready for my next experience of another slice of Ahmedabad.
I hope you enjoyed visiting this place with me.