Kumbh's one-man army
Technically, he's not even a sadhu, as he keeps returning to his family in a Uttar Pradesh village. But the 70-plus Srinath, with his thick glasses and paper Gandhi cap worn sideways Napoleon-style, is one of the big draws in the Kumbh show. Carrying a placard with the words, "People like Veerappan will become prime minister", his stock is especially high this August 15. His self-appointed job at the Kumbh is to walk about the Ramkund Ghat and tell all how our politicians have sold the country. "We eat this country's salt and it's our duty to bring to light the injustice being," he says as he goes about his one-man guerrilla-graffiti work.
Srinath worked in a coal company in Mirzapur till 1971, after which he helped families to set up their own looms for carpet work. For 11 years, he has been spreading his message at religious melas. "Earlier, people would get irritated. Now they stop and read my messages." His Kumbh cycle started in Hardwar in 1998; he was in Allahabad in 2001, and now he's in Nashik. He does not mince his words: "Politicians have stolen the money that Central and state governments have gifted away. Kya uska baap ka paise hain?
Meanwhile, the throngs of people bathing at the Ramkund Ghat seem to be in no special Independence Day mood. Even outside, the fork-tongued saffron flags that dot the city during the Kumbh outnumber the Tricolours by a probable 2000:1. (Perhaps this has something to do with Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray dropping by to inaugurate a flyover?)
At the midnight of August 14-15, however, the ghats wore a desolate look. Only a few people were braving the swift Godavari and one heard a few firecrackers go off at this hour when "India will awake to life and freedom".
Asked what he thought of Independence Day, a sadhu from the Shree Udasini Naya Akhada simply replied: "It's good. It's good," as if approving an auspicious event. In keeping with the manifold paths of Hinduism, however, Srinath, the modern-day Hindu John the Baptist, has quite another opinion on the matter.