“Which one do you like?” asks the storeowner with a perfect English and a strong Indian accent. At the end of our visit of the ancient site of Mahabalipuram, our host and coworker Srini insisted in offering Mattias and I a hand-carved statue as a souvenir of our first time in India. I browse through the myriad of figurines on the shelves and point my finger to a little pink Ganesh, the god with the elephant head, the Remover of Obstacles, my favorite Hindu deity. Inexplicably, looking at him makes me feel happy. The merchant’s head wobbles from side to side in approval. “Good choice! It is a beautiful Ganesha, made of solid red granite.” Mattias also picks a statue — the Buddha — and Srini starts negotiating the price down while I ponder our cultural differences. In the Western world it would be quite awkward to buy someone a present and haggle in front of them but here it a normal part of the buying process. Soon the fair price is agreed, the gifts are paid and Srini drives us back to our fancy hotel in bustling Chennai.
“It’s my Aunt’s 70th birthday, I want to give her a present. What about this?” Mai is holding the little red Ganesh in her hand. We are packing our things and putting our house for sale before leaving on a one-year journey on the roads of Latin America. Part of the process has been letting go of a lot of material possessions but I am hesitant: I really like this little Ganesh. He has been sitting on my desk for the last 6 months and I suspect that he has removed a lot of obstacles. Part of me isn’t ready to let him go but we already have another Ganesha who will come with us on the road. Reason wins over emotion. I nod: “Yes, good idea. I am sure she will like it. I brought it all the way from India, you know.” Within days Ganesh makes his way to Paris, where Aunt Natalie lives.
“There’s a present for you!” says Mai as she looks through her bag. “It’s from Natalie.” Mai’s brother just flew back from France, his suitcases stuffed with presents from the European relatives. Mai’s hand comes out of the bag holding the little red Ganesh, which I recognize immediately in disbelief. After its exile in Paris the elephant-headed god has removed all the obstacles and travelled 5,500 miles to find his way back to my desk.
My dear Ganesh, I am glad to see you again. You can stay here as long as you wish.