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The Journey Home

At the center of a temple, a dark room. The blinds are half open, and dust floats in the slats of light. The room is a library in name—glass-doored bookcases line the walls—but it is mostly a closet in function. In here are the objects belonging to a life forever in transit: two metal lockers, a doctor’s scale used to weigh luggage, and stacks of not-yet-unpacked cardboard boxes, old and soft, the weathered flaps not sealed with tape but tucked into each other for easy access. Among these objects, on gray folding tables, occupying most of the room, stand row upon row of statues of the Hindu god Ganesha. Some are nearly a foot tall; others, no larger than a thumb. Hundreds of crescent-crowned elephant heads with sleepy trunks resting on swollen boy bellies, hundreds of painted eyes looking forward, hundreds of right palms up, asking you to stop for a second. To be still.

I stood among those statues, or murtis, on a late afternoon in September 2012, trying to photograph the feeling of being in that room: the eerie company of all those copies of a single deity, each one believed to actually be the god himself. Each had been brought to life by a pran pratishtha, a ceremony whose name literally translates to “enlivening the resting.” In four days, these statues would no longer exist—at least, not in this state. I was here, with the heavy, semiprofessional Cannon DSLR that I’d borrowed from a generous uncle, to document their end, when the statues’ owners would drop them over a ship’s railing and into the San Francisco Bay.