Lost and Found at the Sangam

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For over six decades, a camp at the Kumbh Mela has been coming to the aid of lakhs of pilgrims separated from their families.

"Hum Lachchman, Palamoo se, bhoola gaye hain; humko Raja Ram Tiwari ke bhule bhatke camp se aa ke le jaao (I'm Lachchman from Palamau. I am lost. Come and take me from Raja Ram Tiwari's lost-and-found camp)," a frantic voice blared over the loudspeakers all across the Sangam during the first shahi snan on January 14, which marked the beginning of the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad. Over 6,000 such appeals were made on that day from Pandit Raja Ram Tiwari's lost-and-found camp for men, located on Triveni Marg at Sangam, the confluence of the Ganga and the Yamuna.

The Kumbh mela is not only a mind-boggling gathering of humanity (the largest in the world), or a logistical nightmare, or an opportunity to attain a state of sin-lessness. It is also a metaphor of chance, the mythical place where twists-of-fate are dealt to mortals in search of expiation, as evident in the many Hindi movies where twins drift apart in the sea of the Kumbh. The Raja Ram Tiwari lost-and-found camp, though, is mostly about happy endings.

In the last 66 years, the camp has come to the aid of over 10 lakh people, all of whom were separated from their families in the jostle of the crowds of the Kumbh and Magh Melas. "That includes some 20,000 children, who were lost," says Raja Ram, now 84. In the previous Ardh-Kumbh, in Haridwar, the number of missing people was estimated at around 50,000, though many are reunited eventually.

The camp has about 10 tents, in which people who are left behind can be accommodated at night. One of them is used by Tiwari, who stays at the camp during the Kumbh. Durries are spread over dry hay and blankets are kept for the needy. Though it started with a couple of men, over the years, a team of 150 volunteers has been raised for it. The Bharat Sewa Dal provides food and blankets. If nobody comes to take the lost people, they are provided with ticket and money to reach their destinations. Children, whose parents or relatives do not turn up, are handed over to the police or Childline, an NGO for children. The services are free of cost.

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