Thursday, January 18, 2018
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kumbh cottage

Vijayraje Scindia paid Rs12 for luxury room

Times have changed. Values have changed. Style of living has changed. But the passion, the urge to seek salvation at Sangam during Kumbh remains unchanged. On Sunday, when I visited the Mahakumbh  (it is Mahakumbh because it is coming after 12 Kumbhs i.e. after 144 years) I couldn’t help contrasting today’s Mela with that of the 1954 KIumbh when too a mass of humanity assembled on the banks of the Sangam for a holy dip. Today you have pontoon bridges which make things so very easy. But in 1954 there were no pontoon bridges. The river then flowed closer to the Triveni Bandh. Instead of pontoon bridges,  boats used to be tied together to construct a make-shift bridge.

There was no such thing as Kumbh Nagar  and people would just rush back to the city after the dip. Millions had come. The city was unprepared for it. People were seen camping on roadsides. Whether it was Stanley Road or MG Marg, one could notice kitchen-fires being lighted on the footpaths. The city itself had turned into the Kumbh nagri. There were not very many cars then. But pedestrians had to be managed by the traffic authorities. At Johnstonganj crossing the police man would raise his hand to stop people from one side to go to the other and allow the crowd on the other road at the crossing to move forward. That sight I just cannot forget.
Barnetts was  then regarded as one of the topmost Hotels of Allahabad. It was listed in world tourist books. I remember Vijay Raje Scindia came here for a dip too and she stayed in Barnetts which was over-packed  with the lounge and the auditorium also converted into a dormitory with a large number of beds. I remember that Rotary meetings were cancelled in view of the rush. Vijay Raje Scindia stayed in one of the luxurious rooms of the hotel. The rate was just Rs12 a day! That was inclusive of all meals too—morning tea, breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner.
Today times have changed. When I went round the Mela on Sunday I chanced to see a cluster of cottages—delux, ordinary and Swiss cottages. I inquired about the rates. The deluxe room for two cost Rs8,500 a day whereas the ordinary room was available for a couple for Rs6,500 a day.  The facilities were more or less the same except that in the deluxe ones there was a separate sitting room. They had plastic cover that made them leakproof. The sanitary fittings were excellent. Linen was new, plates and cutlery  shining brightly;  and as regards the  food, to give foreigners a taste of Indian meals, there were phulkas and missi roti Karhi and other vegetables plus hot, sizzling ‘jalebis’. Meals were vegetarian and I saw foreigners taking off their shoes before entering the vast dining tent .Anil Agarwal Artiji who showed me around revealed that the whole place was jungle.  This particular resort has been made on five-acre plot and the whole place had to be first cleared of weeds and thorny bushes and levelled before it could be converted into a mini-colony.  There were  some 80 cottages and all were booked for Mauni Amavasya, two days before and two days after. Power generators had been kept in readiness for emergency.
Such cottages were not there in 1954. How could that be when few could imagine the rush of pilgrims that would be coming to the first mela in free India?
But from the bridge the sight that I caught was not of a spiritual  get-together but a commercial mela. One could see nothing but cars and cars, more cars, big cars, small cars, moving slowly on all the roads, pontoon bridges, with bikes seen here and there too. In 1954 there was hardly any car. We saw more people, less vehicles because, till then we hadn’t reached even the Cycle Age.
It was also interesting to see the spiritual gurus going about on two-whelers, four wheelers. How much materially well-off they are must already be known to the people from reports about hoodlums breaking the window panes of their luxurious cars and carrying away lakhs of rupees and other valuables kept inside the vehicles.
What is more, some of the saints and preachers could be seen decked in jewellery. What message were they conveying? That now spiritualism is the path that leads to materialism?
And what one calls blind faith was also very much visible among the masses who were not bothered at all by the reports about the Ganga water being polluted. They were having a dip in the water declared by experts to be unfit for bathing, let alone drinking. However, so far as drinking water was concerned, most people were carrying bottles of mineral water, indicating that they did not trust Gangajal to pass through their throats any more.  It was  a rich and rewarding experience. I won’t call my visit a spiritual voyage but would prefer to refer to it as an enjoyable picnic for which I must thank Mr P.K.Agarwal who made this possible.

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