Saturday, September 20, 2008

RWNV 2: Thirupathi Thrills

Rover, Wanderer, Nomad, Vagabond Part 2: Thirupathi Thrills
(This article runs into 3 parts. Links to PART 1, PART 3)

Thirupathi Balaji: A god for fat rich people. Don’t get me wrong, it is one of the wealthiest (yeah, in terms of revenue) temple loaded with behemoth overhead of security and people management (damagement, I would say). The process to get a look of the god is so inefficient that you may not get a chance to see god, even if you have 8 hour time window.

Last time, me and my cousin, S , reached there at morning 10. And – no surprise, there was no information center (or our heuristic search didn’t get one) and officials and dudes do not believe in possibility of a non-Telugu language. We assumed our methodology was wrong and we should have learnt Telugu.

This time, with non-coherent knowledge from different sources that includes experienced guys, internet searched and travel agencies, I was clear about one thing that I was not going Balaji the next time (even before journey starts). No, yeah, I agree they have tried to facilitate people but it fails miserably. So, there are number of tickets issued by the temple authorities that are mysteriously available in some unknown temple in T. Nagar, Chennai. All the persons, who are going to Balaji, have to be there at ticket booking center to get a bar-coded tag with visitor’s finger print stamp [1]. I never get one, they are volatile, supposedly.

Since, this is a high-tech (?!) temple they have on-line ticket that ranges next 90 days for booking. I had enough time to plan (around 40 days). It was weird to find out that ticket has been already booked for all the future 90 days. Out of curiosity, the next day morning (9 o’clock) I checked availability of ticket on 91st day, no surprise, no room. I started checking this site frequently; it was always full – less mysterious, more doubtful.

Finalized, I booked a bus ticket from a travel agent that ensured a Darshanam (glimpse) of the God. We started six in morning from Chennai and were there in an infinitely long queue for Daarshanam. We were happy that even if the queue was actually 4 KM long, if we kept moving and 5 hrs (at the worst) in the queue and we would get a glimpse of the God.

Running over and below people’s feet, we reached to a monkey cage. Where they made us (500 people) stay and get bored for six long hours, the only thought I had was to escape from there even if it means no Darshanam (I wasn’t eager from start, either) [2]. And the truth was – no matter what God feared people say – everyone was getting more and more frustrated, restless and anxious. The effect of this pressure building resulted in a stampede as soon as the cage opened. People hit iron bars, got squeezed, rubbed and gone under other physically painful sufferings. People started shouting, cursing, pushing, slanging and doing all kind of panic activities.

The result of this rat race was a coupon for sweet that you are ‘eligible’ ONLY IF you have done Darshanam and you are back in another cage. Now, in this cage, people had become verbal. They started calling (requesting) officials to open the door or asking when the cage is scheduled to open etc. – all unanswered. Rumor starters had fun there, if there was a rumor that gate 3would open, people run from gate 1 to gate 3 (earlier rumor was for gate 1); four more hours for monkey descendents in the cage, and then opening of the gate at 10 o’clock at night.

It was very long, empty and silent corridor. And suddenly, there was an eruption. Everyone was happy; I am more than sure it was happiness of freedom. It was less a willingness to get Darshanam and more an urge to return home which was driving people to run and run-over.

The main temple had a tiny entrance, one person at a time. When the entrance pushed by the mad mob, I felt my ribs were going to collapse. People were shouting, using all the dirty slangs on fellow visitors and pushing each other, while entering. The passage way was narrow, many people with accessories like earrings, handkerchief in their hand and similar, had lost them because the pressure was peeling skin off. A lot of people got hurt. I have got a powerful push which made my heel bone to hit a corner stone leading a deep cut that bared the bone. I was already less faithful, I became even lesser.

It was quarter a second glance before security person pulls people by their arm and throws out of the area where the God is visible from. I couldn’t see anything; neither did I have any wish. I completed my Darshanam even before a quarter of a second, in fact, I ran the zone of the queue where people wait and see for 250 milliseconds before getting forcefully thrown.

We came out bought some stuffs for memories, I already had got something permanent on my body for memory – a solid wound which would leave a mark forever.

We ran back to bus, reached home at 4 AM.

[1] There is a hack for this system if the persons visiting Balaji are not around. The trick here is your security/non-transferable band has gender and fingerprint only, the barcode is just a cross-check to validate that it was issued from appropriate authority.

Now, if there are x men and y women are planning to visit Balaji and for some reason (small time window of visit, busy schedule etc.) they cannot go to ticket counter in Chennai. So, to hack this system, you just collect x men and y women of any age, get tickets issued. It is less likely that fingerprint is ever going to be verified at the temple.

There is no or very superficial checking on Balaji – unless you are damn unlucky you will not be caught.

[2] Yeah, they provide some free food, free water and toilet facility; which is a good idea. The problem is every time they bring food people rush to choke the food center and since they take more than what they can consume, there was big wastage of food and a lot of people never get food. The other good thing is cleanliness; hourly cleaning people come and clean the place.



Binit said...

While I agree with you on the rush and management not being able to manage it properly , but at the same time ,a slight deeper thinking gives some insight of what goes wrong there sometime.
On average 60K people visit the temple everyday and for that reason , I like their idea of every darshanrthi should have a ticket which is issued only for hmself .( though you mentioned the hack in the system , but I think "usually" they won't let you get tickets for others.Regarding superficial scanning , it is again because of people rush and most imp. illiterate and poor people rush.

They indeed have many information counters and you can use hindi / english. (offcourse knowing telugu will be a bliss).

The problem is , in their default queue (5-6 hours) , most of the people really don't mind getting pushed here and there , getting some wound (simply because of they are a lot and most probably most of the people in those queue are poor )

For people like you and me , we can always take some expensive tickets ( 1000 or 500 , something like that) and get darshan in 1-2 hours ... and please note even this wouldnt save the friction and being pushed inside the main temple. (Ok , having said that Please consider this money thing not as shortcut for darshan , but for the better managemement and distinguisihing people in categories for smooth flow)
But again , if you think of it it is mainly because of so many people , who are just beyond any teaching.

But yeah I do agree that , not only in Tirupathi , but in all famous temples in india , the security (most of the time NCC ) should be aware of how-to-deal-with-stampede.

Nishant Neeraj said...

I agree with everything you said and in fact, your thought on cause of the problems are valid and deep.

There are valid points to support issuing of ticket to physically present Darshanarthi. But, in my case, my family was coming on short tour and I wanted to get the tickets before they come to Chennai.

Online is fake.

The question is why, with so high revenue and knowledge of amount of rush, they are unable to have a sophisticated rush management system?

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