How Bollywood ruined the Kumbh Mela for me
What ended up becoming one of Bollywood's most iconic phrases — "Kumbh ke Mele mein bichde huye bhai" — was actually a very real fear I lived with all my childhood.
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Bollywood has ruined fairs for me — and it is not fair!
If I had a penny for every time a hapless child in a Bollywood film was lost in the Kumbh ka Mela — only to be found 20 years later, thanks to a matching tattoo, or a pendant or a piece of clothing that the mother so distinctly remembers, then I'd have enough capital to make a film about what the Kumbh Mela really looks like!
When not otherwise crowded with pointless posts about eggs, Instagram's love affair with Kumbh Mela is legendary. The colours, the backdrop — it's a particular sepia tone none of Instagram's filters will be able to achieve!
But Bollywood, at least for me, had painted a very different picture of this grand (af)fair. And I am angry.
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Photos by @shahbaz284 & @choudharyravi . Sadhus take holy dip on the auspicious Makar Sankranti day during the Kumbh Mela, in Allahabad today. #PTIPhotos . #Prayagraj #KumbhMela #NagaSadhu #Sadhu #HolyDip #MakarSankranti #Sangam #Ganga #Yamuna #Hindu #Prayer #ArdhKumbh #instagram #festival #indian #india #religious
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Last weekend, for want of a better social life, I ended up at a local Poush Mela — something similar to the iconic Kumbh Mela, yet vastly different at the same time in size and in popularity, although, let's just say, they both kind of celebrate the same Sankranti you have been gorging sweets for.
I found myself going for all the kitsch, overpriced, I admit, in the shops around, clutching onto the arms of my friend. I didn't want to get lost. I am as adult as adult gets, but the fear had the better of me.
And that's a fear I blame Bollywood for — losing my way around in a fair, calling out the names of my family and friends, searching for their familiar faces in the crowd but ultimately sinking and crumbling under the realisation that you are, after all, lost.
Kumbh Ka Mela was basically the 'Once upon a time' of Bollywood — siblings in arms would visit the Kumbh Mela, play around at the giant wheel, indulge in a few sweet treats, only to be separated by a sea of humanity. Moms and Dads would yell out generic Bollywood names — Bholaaaa! Munnaaaa! — the brother left back with the pack would also pitch in — Bhaiyaaa — but bhaiyaa was nowhere to be found.
United colours of brotherhood! (Source: YouTube screengrab/DailyO)
Until it was the climax, that it.
Now, why did the idea scare me back then?
While 'separation' immediately translated to no-school and no-homework — pros, it also meant I'd have to fend for myself and I'd probably grow up to become a pick-pocket — cons.
So great was, and still very much is, this fear that it percolated into a phobia of sorts of public places for me.
I still find myself steering away from specific spots where I see a crowd gathering.
Ram Aur Shyam, Sita Aur Geeta, Waqt, Amar Akbar Anthony — okay, not all of these separations happened at the world's largest religious gathering, but you get the drift.
Mark achhein hain! (Source: Twitter)
Why can't these filmi children just go visit a fair with their family and come home with a pink candy floss in hand?
Why do they always have to be lost and found, only after a lifetime has passed, and they've messed up their education and therefore, the prospect of a job?
Why do these kids only grow up to be a cop or a criminal?
Alas, Bollywood never answered these questions bubbling in my inquisitive mind back then.
Kumbh, sometimes used as a generic term for just about any Mela simply to encash on that fear of losing one's self, became a recurring theme in Hindi films of the 70s, through the 80s. But, what ended up becoming one of Bollywood's most iconic phrases — "Kumbh ke Mele mein bichde huye bhai" — was actually a bitter reality, after hundreds of cases of lost kids surfaced during that time.
That shit was real. That fear was real.
Tattoo nahin, toh tag hi sahi. (Source: PTI)
Clearly, technology giants stand with me in solidarity and identify this fear — which is why they are offering an RFID tag to all children under 14 years of age and senior citizens at the Kumbh Mela premise. This will help track their movements and trace their location. (Although given the current network outage we experience, I am not sure if this tracking will take any less than the standard 20 years for the lost-and-found cycle to complete).
If, by any strange turn of events, you forget to collect the tracker tag from the venue, just make sure you at least have matching tattoos, or pendents to reunite you