On January 14,
devotees on an annual pilgrimage to Sabarimala had gathered in a forest to witness the Makar Jyoti. Barely two hours later, on their way to their respective buses, a stampede occurred and 109 pilgrims lost their lives. The tragedy that happened in Kerala’s Idukki district at Uppupara, left over 50 injured, and still more missing.
Present on the scene was Jackky Bhagnani who has been going on this yearly
(pilgrimage) for the last eight years. This year, he was accompanied by seven friends. Dressed in the traditional black robes, unshaven and barefoot, he had made the journey without incident.
“On the way down, in the crush of rushing crowds, I was separated from my friends. It was a little scary because I was alone and the chaos seemed to be mounting. But I didn’t panic. We had anticipated something like this happening and had planned to meet at the police station should we get separated It was at there that I learnt about the tragedy,” recalls the actor, who still has cuts and scratches but insists they are from walking around barefoot on sharp stones and that he escaped without a scratch.
For Bhagnani who has a release,
, coming up, 2011 is an important year. He shivers over the realisation that he may not have lived through it. “I was barely a kilometre away from the site of the stampede, I could have been one of the victims too,” he admits, adding that his family is pretty shaken. “But I will go back next year. I don’t believe in blind faith and idol worship but there’s an inexplicable power there that draws me. Besides even in Mumbai, I’ve lived through the bomb blasts, the train explosions and the 26/11 terrorist attacks.”
While the Kerala police has come under some sharp criticism from certain quarters, Bhagnani insists they are not to blame. “There were just 1,500 of them for a crowd of over three crore pilgrims, gathered over five days. I’m told the numbers are increasing by 15 lakh every year,” he reasons “If anything, they were pretty organised on the way up, allowing devotees through only in batches. May be they should follow the same procedure on the way down from next year.”