Lost Among 150 Million Pilgrims In Kumbh Mela? This 70-Yr-Old Camp Will Save You

Image Credits: Bharat Sewa Dal

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‘Siblings separated in Kumbh Mela’ happen to be a colloquial catchphrase among Indians to express a strong bond of friendship. In reality, hardly any pilgrim at Kumbh Mela has to wait years to be reunited with his or her family, thanks to one foundation – Bhule Bhatke Shivir.

Started in 1946 by Raja Ram Tiwari, better recognised as ‘Bhule Bhatke Tiwari’, the camp is still reuniting devotees who get separated from their families at the overcrowded Mela grounds in Prayagraj Sangam. They hold a record of reuniting more than 12,50,000 people and 22,000 children in the past seven decades.

Four generations of a family doing this work

After Raja Ram Tiwari passed away in 2016, his son Umesh Tiwari took the onus of maintaining his father’s legacy and being a saviour to hundreds of lost souls in distress. This year as well, the Mela is abuzz with constant announcements of names in loudspeakers by Bhule Bhatke Shivir (also known as Khoya Paya Shivir).

Bhule Bhatke Shivir
Umesh Tiwari

At the camp premises, lost individuals are provided with blankets and meals for free until their families find them. “We try our best to serve them. This seva is everything for us,” remarks Umesh, expressing his devotion towards Ganga Maiya (Mother Ganges). They manage their funds mostly on their own, but occasional help keeps pouring in from well-wishers and Mela authorities. Umesh states that though they have never received any significant help from the Government, Bhule Bhatke Shivir has always managed well.

Umesh Tiwari is presently supported by a team of around 150 volunteers from different Indian states. “Four generations of our family are involved in this work. The volunteers who work with us now belong to the families who originally supported my father throughout his life,” Umesh informs Efforts For Good.

For the rest of the year, the Tiwaris are farmers by profession. But, on the days of the Mela every year, they turn saviours for many desperate souls. His son Ashutosh Tiwari has also joined the noble family tradition at the 2019 Kumbh Mela.

While Umesh Tiwari speaks to Efforts For Good, the clamour of endless mike announcements and enquiries can be heard in the background. Yet he speaks with utmost humility, which shows how seasoned he is to handle such a massive affair with a calm mind. “On normal days, we reunite around 200-250 people. On auspicious days like Purnima (full moon), the number can reach up to 1600 – 1700,” he reveals.

How ‘Bhule Bhatke’ Tiwari started

In 1946, Raja Ram Tiwari had attended the Magh Mela at Prayagraj for the first time, as a young adult of barely 18 years. On his way through the crowd, he spotted a helpless elderly woman crying in panic. It turned out that she could not find her way back to her makeshift tent, as it had no distinguishing mark among hundreds of similar shelters. Raja Ram helped her find her home.  Overwhelmed with gratitude, the woman had touched his feet then, which startled young Raja Ram. That’s when he decided that he would continue to pursue this work.

Bhule Bhatke Shivir
Raja Ram Tiwari, a.k.a Bhule Bhatke Baba

The next day, Raja Ram Tiwari fashioned a Bhopu (tin loudspeaker). He then scoured the Mela venue leading a team of lost people and declared their names tirelessly with his Bhopu. In the 1946 Magh Mela alone, he reunited around 800 people with their families, including little children.

Since then, Raja Ram Tiwari had been an integral part of every religious congregation happening at Prayagraj. Umesh Tiwari tallies the participation of his late father at 6 Ardh Kumbhs, 6 Kumbhs and more than 60 Magh Melas till his demise in 2016. The handmade loudspeakers were the only equipment used by Raja Ram Tiwari for many years till the advent of microphones.

They still work in the traditional way

Thanks to digital cameras, mobiles and internet now, finding a person’s family is a cakewalk. In fact, at the 2019 Kumbh Mela, around 15 digital lost-and-found centres have been set up. Yet, Bhule Bhatke Shivir chooses to stick to the traditional way of enlisting the names on paper, followed by announcements. And surprisingly, even in the digital age, panicked devotees forsake the digital centres and approach Bhule Bhatke Shivir for finding their families.

However, for non-Hindi speakers, the Shivir volunteers do take the help of Facebook and WhatsApp. By sharing their photographs, they find out the families in no time.

The Clean Ganga mission

Bharat Sewa Dal, Raja Ram Tiwari’s organisation which operates the Bhule Bhatke Shivir, has also started their Ganga cleaning mission a few years ago. “Throughout the year, we organise Ganga cleaning drives every Purnima (full moon days). My father’s last wish was to see a clean Ganga. So, he had initiated this mission before he left this world,” Umesh Tiwari shares emotionally.

Movie on ‘Bhule Bhatke’ Tiwari

‘Lost at Kumbh Mela, reunited decades later’ – this might have served as a plotline for many cult Bollywood movies. But, late Raja Ram Tiwari had brushed off the highly popular concept as fictitious. “There’s no such thing as lost forever. That’s only in films,” he had remarked in a 2013 interview with LA Times, adding that in reality, it takes hours, at most a few days, to reunite people.

Bollywood has long moved on from the cliched Kumbh Mela storylines and now the incredible story of Bhule Bhatke Tiwari himself is going to be adapted on screen soon. In November 2018, filmmaker Siddharth Roy Kapur revealed his plans for the same.

Also Read: 11,000+ Sanitary Workers, 1,00,000 Toilets & Use Of Technology To Ensure A ‘Swachh’ Kumbh 2019

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‘Happy Fridge’: The Key To Bridge Food Wastage And Hunger Problem In India

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Rahul Khera and Gautam Jindal, volunteers (aka hunger heroes) at Feeding India, were among the many Delhi NCR residents accustomed to seeing hungry children pick up half-eaten burgers or stale sandwiches from the dustbin and savour those with the brightest smiles. Like many others, they also had the will to promote equitable food distribution but was perplexed about the approach, until they learnt about the community fridge initiative which has gained unprecedented success in Saudi Arabia and few other European countries. Meanwhile, community fridges were already being installed outside restaurants or in public places in a handful of cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Coimbatore and Kochi.

Say Goodbye To Throwing Away Excess Food Because Now You Can Donate The Food To The Needy – Happy Fridge

Thank you for overwhelming response for the Happy Fridge concept. We need more funds from you to install more fridges like this across India. With the limited funds avaialble Feeding India was able to install three fridges only. Kindly donate here http://bit.ly/happyfridge

Posted by The Logical Indian on Saturday, October 27, 2018

Needless to mention, with a shocking 103rd rank in the Global Hunger Index and a food wastage estimate of around Rs 58,000 crore – India was perhaps the best country to implement such an initiative. With Gautam’s help, an enthusiastic Rahul invested his own savings to install a ‘Happy Fridge’ outside his residence at Sun City, Sector 54 in Gurgaon. Set up in 2017 by these Feeding India volunteers, the fridge in Gurgaon has inspired the NGO to scale up the project across India.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

‘Happy Fridge’ fostered many smiles

It didn’t take long for the local residents to learn about this laudable endeavour. They welcomed it, as wastage of excess food was a recurring problem in almost every household. “Intimating the localities was no mammoth task, thanks to social media. However, it was difficult to spread the word among those who actually needed the food,” shares Rahul, who went from auto stands to slums, inviting rickshaw pullers, ragpickers or roadside vendors to avail the community fridge any time they feel hungry. “The security guards of our residential complex played a huge role in explaining how the fridge works to the beneficiaries,” he adds.

The operational and maintenance costs of the ‘ happy fridge ‘ are being maintained diligently by the community members.

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Making memories, sprouting awareness

“I remember one young man who had arrived from a village looking for some menial day job. Somehow he had run out of his paltry savings and had no money to buy one decent meal a day. For about a month, our happy fridge was his solace, till he earned his first salary from a housekeeping job,” shares a jubilant Rahul.

In another incident, a truck driver returning in the wee hours of midnight was starving after a whole day’s hard work. He had run out of cooking fuel at his home, so our fridge was at his rescue.

“The residents keep all sorts of palatable dishes in the happy fridge, ranging from dry snacks, fruits to cooked meals. Sometimes, they even keep raw vegetables, to ensure not a single bit of good food ends up in their trash while other people go hungry to bed,” reveals Rahul.

On an average, each happy fridge supplies around 10-15 meals in a day. The gratitude and pure smiles of the hungry souls after a fulfilling meal are more than enough to continue to motivate Rahul and his neighbours. In fact, inspired by him, many other communities in the Delhi-NCR region set up community fridges in their areas.

Feeding India will set up 500 Happy Fridges

Since the past few years, Feeding India has been a prominent organisation working in the forefront to solve the hunger problem in India. Primarily, they were involved in redistributing leftover food from weddings and parties among the underprivileged people in different cities of India. Their volunteers, better known as “Hunger Heroes of India”, worked actively to bridge the gap between food wastage and food crisis.

“We used to get a lot of calls from individual households to collect their excess food. However, unfortunately, we lacked the manpower and planning to launch our programme on a door to door basis. We were desperately looking for an alternative when we learnt about the community fridges,” shares Srishti Jain, co-founder of Feeding India.

After interacting with Rahul Khera and other campaigners of community fridges, Feeding India decided to amplify this extraordinary project throughout the length and breadth of India. Presently, they have launched the #FightFoodWaste campaign to install 500 community fridges – nicknamed ‘ Happy Fridge ’. So any passer-by – be it a kid going to school without a lunchbox, or a labourer returning home late at night with no promise of a dinner – can now grab a pack of biscuits or a bowl of ‘dal-chawal’ (rice & lentil soup) to satiate their hunger. Click here to contribute for ‘ Happy Fridge ‘ and ensure India never sleeps hungry again.

Feeding India also urges everyone to make a promise to stop wasting food and instead consider donating it to those in need.

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