Old Bollywood movies with plots like a pair of brothers getting separated from each other in kumbh mela-like scenarios draws guffaws from many of us today.
But if you consider the chaos and panic that will ensue on Thursday — Ganpati immersion — at Girgaum Chowpatty, with over 5 lakh people pushing their way towards the beach and over 100 lost cases being registered, the story doesn't seem laughable.
That’s when you appreciate the efforts a small band of HAM radio operators has been putting in for the last 10 years to
ensure smooth and hassle-free Ganpati immersion for everyone involved.
“When roads are that crowded, people, especially children and old people get lost easily. And with thousands of people trying to make frantic calls, cell networks get jammed. But HAM radios still work, even when every other communication system falls apart,” says Zyros Zend, founder member, Mumbai Amateur Radio Society (MARS).
A HAM radio club that was started in 2000 by 25 active HAM radio operators or hams, MARS by its very nature is non-commercial.
Like all amateur radio clubs, they aren’t allowed to communicate matters of business or political interest via radio. But they help out in public emergency situations by providing vital communication support when usual systems break down.
Apart from helping out with immersions at Girgaum Chowpatty for the last nine years, MARS also helped re-establish communication links during situations like the 2006 serial train blasts, 26/7 deluge, 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and 2001 Gujarat earthquake.
“For immersion, we set up our radio operators at traffic signals, Girgaum Chowpatty, lifeguard towers at the lost and found stations, at the civic body’s medical stations and on a speedboat to check on mishaps. Last year, we tackled over 100 lost and found cases,” informs Zend.
The group works round the clock from 12 noon on Anant Chaturdashi, or the 10th day of immersion, when the first idols start arriving at the beach, to 5 am the next morning.
“It’s satisfying to be able to help out the community in this way,” says Ivor Pereira, secretary, MARS.