Ganesha, lord of obstacles and wisdom

29 October 2012 § Leave a comment

“I like your heart,” he said as I walked away. “And that, too.”

I looked down at my chest, to see whether he could see my heart. An Om symbol decorated my new hoodie, the likes of which I hadn’t worn since high school. “Thanks,” I said, then turned away and smiled. As I walked, I leaned over the breakfast-table sized painting of Ganesh to protect it from the rain. Given the dirt and ash that covered the cartoonish elephant god, I could have let the pindrop Portland rain soak him through only to benefit.

The two men had hollered at me after I passed their resident bar on Hawthorne. I’d just left writing class, and carried scribbled notes and Ganesh down the sidewalk. I hid the painting from view of the customers in glass-walled yogurt shops and others smoking outside. I imagined them wondering what my painting depicted, why I carried it in the rain, where it came from.

These two picked up the bait.

When I revealed the giant canvas god, their beer-sloshed eyes lit up. “It came from a fire,” I said.

“Did you buy it?”

“From the fire?”

“We saw a van on fire earlier, in the middle of the street. Cops, and everything.”

“That must have been the one, then.”

Ganesh – who at once is Ganesha, Ganapati, Dvaimātura (one who has two mothers), Vighnesha Lord of Obstacles, the thousand-named elephant-headed god of wisdom, knowledge, obstacles and letters – sits on a lotus flower, half-cross-legged, as if deciding whether to meditate, or run away. For once he is concerted to his audience, his devotees, who invoke his name before all other Hindu gods. On the ash-dusted canvas he is focused, painted in shades of grey, holds in one of his right hands an ax; in his lefts a flower and a bowl of fruit. He is not playful, but holds secrets and answers to begging questions:

Why only one tusk? What happened to the other? You are not symmetrical; one left hand, bearing fruit, bears also six fingers. Where do you come from, and what peace do you offer me?

I feel the childish nature in my questions; I was raised by western deities whose cares are broad and selfish, who do not bother with stories of elephant heads but of levitation and cannibalism. Gods have eluded me all my life, hiding in book spines and under great boulders, just out of my reach. Ganesha, or whatever he goes by, emerged from a pile of burned art as I walked by the embers. His artist’s name is half-erased, ends with “-rdeh.” The man who gifted me this god said it was meant for me, and only me. No evangelist has said that. He said, please think of me at Christmas time.

On the street, I turned Ganesha’s image away from everyone else because I did not know him either, and could not make introductions properly. I hope that he looks over me, that we get to know each other well, for his purpose serves mine. And If I find peace in the sun behind his head as well as in the ax, then perhaps above my writing desk is where he belongs for now.

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