Saturday, March 9, 2013

Kumbh #, 2013, Allahabad/Prayag - The Big One, Part 2

Part 1 can be found here.

Feb 25th was the day of the Magha Purnima Snan, the last of the major bathing dates of the 2013 Kumbh. We woke up by around 10 in the morning. Rakesh was there to pick us up. Before checking out, I noticed a door inside our room and I opened it. We had an attached prayer/peepal place in our room, and we had never realized it.

The cab was stopped 4.5 kilometers away from the Prayag. A cycle rickshaw took us bit further. We had to walk the last 3 kilometers, but that was nothing compared to what my friend did a few days ago - 15 kilometers one-way walk in the hot sun. Clean Ganga posters were there to be seen everywhere (this one says: "I will bathe in the Ganges, but without using soap").

As were the usual ones.

And the crowd started swelling with every step.


 Boy selling colorful flowers.
 Innovation. Ship-shaped aartis for smoother navigation.

More people.

 More and more people.

 A Gujarati village.

We finally reached the river bank after a long walk in the sun. I went in first after keeping my shoes and other stuff with Randeep. Randeep abandoned them and (like a true friend) came forward to take pictures.
Black sheep!
Out of water.  The waters of the Ganges cling on to you.
I managed to find my shoes where they were abandoned by my friend. Randeep cunningly (not wanting to take chances) kept his sandals near where I stood taking pictures while he went to take the dip. It was funny.
Randeep, after his holy dips! It was funny because the sandals were stolen from beneath my nose while I clicked pictures.

"Kumbh on a boat" was this year's rage. I saw posters sponspred by Idea propagating this scheme with the punchline "What an idea, Sirji". I hoped there were life jackets. Marketers were making a killing during the mela. Perhaps the best was Hindustan Lever that had another campaign in which all the tavas (frying pans) in Allahabad had "Lifebouy se haath dhoya kya" message embossed on them, so that the rotis would have the impression. O&Mather!

A man happily drying his wife's sari.
All through the last 3 hours of walk and dip, all I could here was the announcements of people missing. XYZ is missing. His dad is waiting at the control tower. ABC is missing. Her husband is waiting at the control tower. At times, the announcers could not understand the language of the people crying and they would put them on live. It's heart wrenching to hear the cries of people looking for their near and dear. The language does not matter. Incidentally, a lot of people (the story goes) are purposefully left off to their own devices by their families at the Kumbh -usually the old and weak. Imagine being dumped like that - imagine the conspiring family members. Aaaarrgh. No Kumbh can cleanse those sins.
There's a story to this picture. I asked her what the rice in front of her was for, and she told me that people give alms (handfuls of rice) when they come for the Kumbh. And she asked me for some cash. I was like I don't have any. That's when Randeep reminded me of the cash he had given for safekeeping. Gosh, I had kept it in my pockets while taking the dip. SO, I took out the wet notes, gave her 50 bucks, and shot her picture, while Randeep made the cardinal error of trying to dry the notes in the open.
A bunch of "naga" sadhus and others pounced on the currency dryer. I scooted to the side to take pictures. Here's Randeep giving me the "why you desert me?" look.

Kill me Sajish, will ya?
It's Kumbh bro, care for a wig?
Colors again!
Welcome to the stereotypical firang. The sadhus who were smoking up first gave the chillum to his partner but he refused to let her smoke. But then, he had to try it out.

Cops! They did a decent job at handling millions of people. Barring the unfortunate stampede at the railway station a few days back, this year's Kumbh was managed well. Hats off to the much maligned public sector. Those who grudge public sector completely (including me) need to only look at the bungled Metallica concert in Delhi to make a private sector comparison.
It was hot and sunny and we sweated our way back from salvation. I started eating ice creams for comfort. This guy is innovative. I asked him for a cone ice cream. He scooped out the contents from a cup ice cream (process in pic below), put it in a cone, and gave it to me. Some kids don't need a management degree.

This is where the story changes. VHP posters making a case for the Ram temple at Ayodhya.

The message got shriller as we got out of the stampede zone, into the comfort of our air conditioned car. I got out just to capture this pic. Apmaan hain, it seems. (Poster: It's an insult to Ram to sit inside a cotton makeshift temple) Tell you what guys, we're gonna hear more of this on a matter that is sub judice. Ram & Ram Setu might just forcefully dominate India's political scene.

We decided to proceed to Ayodhya the next day to see what's on the ground out there. We reached Lucknow by around 7 in the evening.

That's our driver - Rakesh, the most accommodating chap to the most demanding customers.
We asked him to take us to a pub that night. And he took us to the best in town. We withdrew loads of cash (just in case, the swipe thingie didn't work), and walked into 5 C R lounge. Bouncers stopped us, stripped us of matchboxes, took names and phone numbers, and noted ID proofs.  And was like, man, this is gonna be something inside. We entered the lounge that can seat around 200 odd people, disco lights and music, and it was awesome. But there was just a small problem, there were just two pubbers, my friend and I. We ran out after a customary 50 ml (yes) peg.
We headed off to Ayodhya next day. It's about 4 hours from Lucknow. Before heading out we got to see a colossal expenditure. The number of people trying to mooch off Shri. Ambedkar.
The BSP elephants were everywhere in Kanshi Ram memorial.
Very nice, Mayawati Geez!
Narcissistic expression at public expense. Tell me something, with what hand do you unveil your own statue?
We reached Ayodhya by around 12. Cops stopped us and asked us to walk the rest of the 4 km. I initially thought about the beefed up security after the HYD blasts. But it turned out to be nonsense, coz a lot of vehicles were plying. Apparently, India has no shortage of VIPs.
Streets of Ayodhya. It was hot, dingy, and dirty.

 All the chillums in the world. For the uninitiated, chillum is used to smoke hashish. 

The havelis, with a touch of post-liberalization India!

I once read that the fall of the Rupee is the revenge of the Dollar and the Euro because we made underwear brands out of them. Look at what we are trying to do to the US President.
 Streetside wax museums!

 These survive on hearfelt devotee donations.

After walking for ages, we were stopped at a place that would open only after another hour. And there were thousands waiting in front of us. Both of us in were any mood to wait that long and walk further. The time wasted in getting there was a sunk cost. They would also not let cameras in, so that dampened my spirits too. The CD seller nearby was selling VCDs of the demolition of Babri Masjid. I bought 2 of them. They show videos of people getting shot at, fighting, getting killed, and destroying stuff. I know for sure that it was the day that alienated a good percentage of our population.

I have no opinion on all of this (I don't want to die for this, you know), except a question - why do you need a place of worship, if your heart is filled with hate?

While walking back, I saw a man pick up a fake 1000 rupee note. He laughed looking at this purse below. It said "whoever picks up this purse, is the biggest XXXfucXXX.
Parag se karey anurag!

On the banks of River Sarayu.
Boating! We voted against it. Taking a dip? We voted against it.

 I saw this typo and I crossed the one-way street to click it. And thud, I did a 360, only to see an aunty sitting on the road and to see his son in his moped a few meters ahead wondering where his mom is. I picked her up from the road (all the while she was cursing me), gave a lecture to her son about flouting one-way rules, clicked a pick, had some yummy mutton, and moved on.
Party sharty karenge! The Jatt look.
Mattresses as check in luggage? It happens in India!
For those who are still wondering what the Kumbh stuff is all about, we go, we take a dip in the river, and we come back. Ashte
In the flight, I checked my new altimeter, and it said I was high enough. :)