Lost and Found at the Sangam

45

Banwari Ram, from Gaya in Bihar, is one of those whose appeals have not been met with a response. He came to Allahabad on Makar Sankranti (January 14) with four family members. "So far, nobody has to come to fetch me," he says, taking leave of Tiwari. He is being sent to the railway station with a train ticket and Rs 300, accompanied by a home guard.

The camp was set up in 1946 under the aegis of Bharat Sewa Dal during the annual Magh Mela held on the banks of Sangam. "I was around 18 then. The need for such a camp was felt because there was little by way of administration or police," says Tiwari. Though smaller in scale than the Kumbh, the footfall at the annual Magh Melas runs into several thousands. They are gatherings of kalpvasis, mostly ordinary people from middle-class and lower middle-class families, who spend the month of Magh in huts on the banks of Sangam, living an austere life, away from worldly trappings.

In 1946, over a thousand huts had been put up. "The 'loudspeaker' through which we would make announcements was made of tin. There was no electricity. We used to go around the mela, announcing the name and description of the lost persons," says Tiwari. The method worked by and large.

In the 1954 Kumbh Mela, around 500 people were killed in a stampede, the worst tragedy in its history. It is said that the stampede occurred when VIPs visited the mela, even as the akharas were proceeding for the shahi snan. "At that time, the river flowed closer to the Triveni Bandh. There were no pontoon bridges. The boats used to be tied together to construct a make-shift bridge. Our job was not only to look after people who got separated from their families, but also to carry the injured to the nearest hospital," recalls Raja Ram, a veteran of five Kumbh and six Ardh-Kumbh Melas (2013 Kumbh being his sixth). It was in the same year that the lost-and-found camp for women was set.

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