Wednesday, January 17, 2018
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We witnessed massive crowds of pilgrims on Basant Panchmi (February 4),  taking a dip in the Sangam on one of the important bathing days of the Magh. And everything passed off  peacefully, the officials heaving a sigh of relief too. Mercifully there was no rain!

We have been passing through a rather cold, foggy and rainy weather which had left most of us shivering and shuddering. Winter rains do come every year. And usually we experience these showers in December or in early and mid-January when the Magh Mela season is at its peak. But this year the rains were rather continuous. However, on Basant Panchmi  the weather suddenly underwent a big change. It was very, very warm in day time and the sunshine became intolerable after some basking. The Mela organizers in particular felt elated because the weather did not  create any problems for them.  Had the rain come when  70 lakh pilgrims were supposedly in town, it would have been impossible to accommodate them elsewhere in the city.   And where would we have put them  in case there was a cyclonic shower ? The  authorities usually find shelter for pilgrims in local schools which  are closed  to shelter  them. But I would like to know how would the multitude of pilgrims have fared if a stormy rainfall had occurred on the  Basant Panchami day uprooting the tents, disrupting the electricity supply and creating a high-voltage panic that could have been  a stepping stone towards a disastrous stampede  ? This is a hypothetical question which I would like someone to answer. If there was a cyclonic storm on  a jam-packed Mela day with lakhs of  people  thronging the shores, where would have these people been accommodated. This is a very vital question for future planning. Alternative arrangements should also be planned because one never knows when any catastrophe may take place. But it seems that in this age of ad-hocism  no one has the time to draw a fool-proof plan—not even the Uttarakhand experience.

This year we haven’t faced the fog menace to the extent to which we faced it in 1960-61.That was quite an unforgettable winter.  For several days the sun never made an appearance on account of the dense fog that had engulfed Allahabad. It used to be round  1p.m. or so that a hazy sunshine would be visible. But a few hours later the whole sky would again get  covered by a blanket of thick fog. I do not think that so many foggy days at a stretch have been witnessed thereafter. But the things still kept on moving. One could see car lights  switched on even at 11 a.m. But what is to be noted is that the rush of vehicular traffic on roads was, comparatively speaking, no rush at all. Mostly one saw cyclists, rickshaw-pullers and some cars around. If someone were to recapture that era we will see how desolate were the roads even during the peak traffic hours. It was at that time that my late friend Surendra Nath Singh revealed a ‘foggy’ story. He said that a man  lost his way in a jungle. He just wouldn’t know where he was going. It was evening time. Then suddenly he saw a man trudging along. He approached him for guidance. The man said, ‘Hold my hand and walk along’. The lost gentleman marvelled at the confidence of the man who was taking him through a zig-zag passage. Finally they reached the end of the forest and were on the road from where the gentleman said he would find his way. Out of curiosity he asked him: ’You are not wearing any special type of spectacles. In fact you are wearing no specs. How could    you manage to find the way?’  He replied: ‘For me it is all the same. I pass through this area daily. I am blind’! His instinct, not affected by any fog, was guiding him ! In other words, his instinct was not blind!

 It was probably round that time, may be a year or so later, when  astrologers spread a scare about an ‘Ashtagraha’ taking place. Newspapers gave screaming headlines to create panic, as if the world would come to an end that day. People were asked to remain indoor as far as possible. We were having our Elysium picnic that day but our  young member Yogendra Narain (who subsequently got into the IAS and retired finally as Secretary- General of the Rajya Sabha)was not allowed to stir out of the house by a family priest. But nothing happened. Everything went off peacefully .Much later, when we met Professor J.K.Mehta, the sage among scholars, the saint among intellectuals, the philosopher among economists,   during his evening stroll and asked him, ‘Sir did the Ashtgraha have any impact ? Nothing happened. Everything passed off peacefully’. The professor remarked: ‘No. Something did happen. It caused the scare, the panic. Wasn’t that enough?’ Well, we never thought of that.

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