It may be one of the most tired of all the Bollywood clichés. But at the vast and confusing tent city abutting the Sangam in Allahabad, missing persons are still the biggest worry for the administration. And the man who has been helping the administration find the persons for some 60 years now is Rajaram Tiwari.
Sitting amid a throng of squatting, tearful devotees, 80-year-old Tiwari's gravelly voice barely rises above the drone of the 3,000-odd tannoys constantly announcing the names of missing persons.
"When we started in 1946, there was no tent, no electricity here. Finding anyone was a harrowing ordeal. Though we now have more help from the mela administration, it has become a bigger affair too," says the man who started the Bharat Seva Dal with nine friends, of whom nobody other than Tiwari has lived to see the current Ardh Kumbh.
There are bigger headaches, too. The meticulously kept records at the Seva Dal - which has become the de facto missing persons' bureau over the years - bear testimony.
While there were some 870 men and women lost and found at the 1946 jamboree, the number peaked to 1.23 lakh at the 2001 Maha Kumbh. This year, with the most auspicious days for a dip not yet over, the number has crossed 4,000. The growing cohorts have attracted more volunteers. Among the Seva Dal's 150-strong team this year are 50 volunteers from Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh. Even those of Tiwari's four sons and eight grandsons residing in the nearby village of Om Gayatri Nagar who had not been able to join earlier, have done so in 2007.
The work has earned him respect from the local authorities. Deputy superintendent of police Brajesh Mishra, under whose watch are the NGOs this year, says, “I have found their work satisfactory. I don't know Tiwari personally, but he has done good work as a permanent member of the advisory committee of the fair."
After serving at five Maha Kumbhs and six Ardh Kumbhs, what does the octogenarian look forward to? “I have never asked for anything. Successive state governments have nominated me for the Padmashree; but nothing has happened yet,” he says.
The man who has helped some 6.5 lakh Indians find their near ones over six decades is yet to find the one thing he has been looking for.