A review of Savithri Machiraju’s “Ganapati Bappa Moriya” in Tesseracts Eighteen: Wrestling with Gods (Edge, 2015).
By Derek Newman-Stille
Ganesha is a Hindu god who has the head of an elephant and a plump body. He is a god of luck, a remover of obstacles, a patron of the arts, and a deity of intellect and wisdom. He is one of the most worshipped deities in the Hindu pantheon, and he is the protagonist of Savithri Machiraju’s short story “Ganapati Bappa Moriya”.
Tesseracts Eighteen is a collection about faith, but it is not really Hindu faith that Savithri Machiraju explores in “Ganapati Bappa Moriya”, rather, she explores a system of beliefs and practices that are generally not considered to be a faith, the fitness movement. Machiraju’s Ganesha is called fat and told that he is disgusting by a fitness guru. Rather than dismissing this as silly human judgements as his wives do, Ganesha decides to change his image to make himself conform to human beauty standards. He begins to work out, control his eating, take supplements to increase his muscle mass, and has plastic surgery to change his elephant head into the visage of a Bollywood star. Rather than embracing his individual bodily expression, he seeks to be just like everyone else, to conform to a standard of beauty.
Machiraju explores the compulsion to conform that is embedded in the fitness movement and the social push for a bodily ideal that removes bodily diversity. Machiraju explores the religious quality of fitness gurus, moralizing bodies into “good” and “bad” and explores the danger of losing oneself in the beauty myth. Machiraju adds further depth to her story by naming her fitness guru Maya, a name which in Hindu belief means “illusion”, illustrating that the beauty myth is itself an illusion, a surface-level performance that does not reveal depth or reality.
To find out more about Tesseracts Eighteen: Wrestling with Gods, visit Edge’s website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/tess18/t18-catalog.html