Sharmila Ganesan-Ram, TNN || Sep 4, 2011, 05.42AM IST – Times of India
He did not have to drink milk or tolerate the cacophony of mandal remixes to convince Rama Shah. A simple guest appearance in her dream 11 years ago was enough.
That night in March 2000, Shah saw the elephant-headed lord reclining sideways on a cushion, a bit like Lord Vishnu. He sported heavy ornaments and looked as enormous as the radiant sky behind him. Shah was mesmerised and for days, could not shake off the desire to convert that vision into something concrete. Her eureka moment arrived while designing a clay pot for her handicraft class. She decided to make an idol of Ganesha in the same form, if not size, that he had appeared to her.
Today, the living room of this simple Jain housewife looks like a Ganesha cloning laboratory. As if proving his omnipresence, her favourite deity occupies almost every inch of the room-be it the glass shelves, the teapoy, the showcase and even the dining table. Amazingly, in the 11 years after she saw that divine vision, Shah has managed to create over 1.5 lakh handmade Ganesha idols, many of them with her eyes closed.
“It has become a form of meditation for me,” says the 50-year-old who makes these idols almost every night in the isolation of her bedroom while listening to the Navkar mantra and chanting to herself. After creating the basic structure with a combination of materials that she does not want to disclose for reasons best known to her, Shah paints them in multi hues the next day. She uses only her fingers, empty ballpen refills and her imagination. This incessant habit has seen her win not only the trophies displayed proudly next to her sofa but also several national and international records, right from the one she got for making 9999 idols in 99 days in the year 2000 to her recent successful attempt at creating 999 idols in 24 hours without consuming food or water. “Nine is my lucky number,” beams Shah.
But what she finds truly rewarding is periodically referring to the 20-odd visitor books in her living room filled with comments such as “I could feel the positive vibrations in your house”. Shah even has photo albums showing Jain gurujis looking on as she creates an idol in front of them blindfolded. “They have always encouraged and appreciated my talent,” says the devotee who can create a medium-sized flawless Ganesha idol in ten minutes flat. Her speed and efficiency can perhaps be traced back to her childhood in Gujarat where, as the eldest of six siblings, she had to grow up before her time. “I used to make 60 chapatis in just one hour,” she recalls, crediting her grandmother with giving her what she calls “family values”.
These come in handy at the various exhibitions and NGO meets Shah addresses, where men sometimes ask such questions as, “Why aren’t we blessed with a steady supply of money?” Shah, in return, asks them to treat women with respect. “Otherwise, how will goddess Laxmi like to enter your house?” she says. Certain visitors even come to her with deeper domestic issues and Shah happily fulfils the role her favourite lord is most known for-” a remover of all obstacles”. After dispensing general pieces of wisdom such as “respect your elders”, she hands them idols fortified with the chanting of a host of problem-specific mantras. For husband-wife squabbles, she hands out Ganesha idols in cool colours such as blue and green, for financial issues she prescribes idols in peach, orange or cream and those with infertility problems get a shiny stone cut in half which houses a mini-Ganesha .
People of all faiths, including a Muslim woman from Vashi with marital issues, have come to her seeking an idol of the deity and his blessings. Some, to her surprise, even fall at her feet and call her “devi”.
It’s evident that this faith of Shah-who recently even created an idol dedicated to Anna Hazare-has percolated to her family of five. “Even when I pack my suitcase, I make sure I put an idol in first,” says Shah’s daughter Riddhi, a fashion designer. Her son Harsh, when he was just two, used to carry a Ganesha idol in his pocket all the time. When people asked him why, the toddler would respond, “It keeps me from falling.”
Shah’s husband, Satish, sums up the changes in the past ten years in one sweeping line. “We have had no problems,” he says.