Pursuit of Happiness

Gung-ho over Ganesha

O&M’s chief Piyush Pandey shares his love for the elephant-headed deity

If Piyush Pandey is travelling out of town, and if you ever have the chance to check his pockets, you wouldn’t miss the little Ganesh murti he carries with himself. “I feel good,” says the ad man who has an eclectic collection of Ganeshas. “He fills me with confidence.”  

In his beautifully done up office in Mumbai’s Goregaon, among all the  awards and accolades picked up by the man who is known as the godfather of Indian advertising, what will catch your eye is an entire cricket team of Ganeshas playing on a field – there’s Ganesha poised to take a tricky catch as umpire Ganesha keenly watches the game! “They are my favourite and the most unique idols in my little collection,” says Pandey, the executive chairman and creative director-South Asia of Ogilvy & Mather. The set is a gift from his caterer who knew of Pandey’s love for the pot-bellied god. Pandey confesses that he is not a real collector – he has about a hundred Ganeshas. “I’m just gifted,” he says with a laugh. “People know I have a fondness for Ganesha and when they find something interesting, they gift it to me.” 

So when did his fascination with Ganesha begin? “Just like every Hindu believer, my mother too believed that everything begins with Ganesha,” he says. “It’s deeply drilled into my psyche and I think I developed great belief in the deity.” As a student at Delhi’s St Stephen’s College, every time he went home to Jaipur, he visited the Ganapati Mandir behind his house. Even today, he rings the temple’s bells on his visits.

 Pandey is not your regular collector who goes scouting for the rarest find. “All my murtis are simple and rustic but cleverly designed,” he says. “It excites me to see how artisans showcase their creativity through an idol.” Ganesha in a hammock, a Ganesha lying down and writing, Ganesha on the front foot with pads-on …Pandey shows them off with enthusiasm. He says  there is a certain cuteness about Ganesha’s image that makes the deity a favourite among many. 

In a country where god’s images are sacred and expressions of artistic freedom are scorned upon, Ganesha’s different avatars have always received different treatments. “The kind of creative liberty the artist can take with Bappa has not been taken with any other god and that makes it all the more special,” says Pandey, who begins all his writing, even his creative doodling, with the ‘Om’ squiggly. “This goes to show that if we are not rigid about our religious practices, it can give rise to many wonderful creations.” 

His passion for Ganapati is infectious. When he represented Asia at a Cannes jury, he got each of the 41 fellow jury members a Ganesha idol with a little message saying ‘This is the god of creativity and, while judging, look out only for creativity and not for your country or company’. “During the judging rounds, there was an argument for an ad,” recalls Pandey. “That’s when an Austrian lady who was passionate about her argument picked up her Ganesha idol and passionately swore by it.” Perhaps it is the Ganeshji Effect that’s the secret of Pandey’s creative energy?