Kumbhing by all means and God save us all. I, for one, just realised that my years as a she baba have done something funny to me.
Earlier, the Kumbh would have had me tearing up the turf as a consumer. This time to my horror I found myself making a mental list of logistics "if I were the
reporting officer" - crowd control, security, fire, water, food, sanitation, health, tech teams on standby for the pontoons, lost-and- found tents, even lozenges and warm drinks for the sore throats of the public address teams - a macro-micro exercise mind-boggling in scale and detail, requiring mela managers to "hear as the gods must hear from Olympus" (to pinch from Aldous Huxley on Mehrangarh Fort).
And now that the South Asia Institute at Harvard is sending a team to deconstruct the operation of a Kumbh, it's interesting to read in news reports that in the team's view, "the scale of the gathering can be gauged by imagining the entire population of Shanghai, about 23 million, camping on a four-by-eight kilometer field, along with the mass of humanity every last man, woman and child in New York City and you're getting closer to the Kumbh's expected attendance, but still not quite there."
The researchers hope "that by studying a pop-up mega-city (they) would learn lessons applicable to a wide range of mass gathering events, from refugee camps to festivals: How do people move en masse? How can the spread of disease be kept in check using minimal technology?"
I remember not really getting it the time a friend let drop casually that he was responsible for that year's Kumbhing. Instead of going, "Oh, my God! Good luck!" I lightly said, "So what's the biggest problem on the ground?" to which he matter-of-factly said, "Diahorrea" at which I went pale green and turned cold and distant.
Think of it, citizens. It is one thing managing an industrial plant where everyone has a reason to be there, is accounted for and works shifts. It's another thing managing a port, an airport or an amusement park.
But the Kumbh? Where a relative handful manages entire unpredictable millions? Kumbh logistics make for a "Who cooked the Last Supper?" feeling, blown up to an epic scale for the world's oldest, maddest, biggest party. Only Indians seem to have the guts to handle it. So spare a kind thought for the stoic officers and teams in charge and God Bless our many silent, sincere administrators.
Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture