With one more major bathing day coming up, pilgrims are still streaming into the Mela, even as many are leaving. We pass by some camps which are pulling up stakes, battered by last week’s storm and perhaps ready to move on as two major bathing days are past. But our favorite mala merchant is still in business, as is the peanut vendor, the pan shop, the bangle shop, and the fortune telling bird. The later proves irresistible.
Two little birds in a small orange cage on cloth spread on the ground catch our eye. Dozens of envelopes, each containing a card with a deity on one side and your fortune on the other are fanned out on the ground cloth. The birds’ agent collects eleven rupees from you, asks your name, and releases a bird. The bird pecks an envelope, and the handler offers it to him, but if he doesn’t pull the card out, the handler throws it aside and the bird chooses another, and so on, until finally the bird pulls a card out and flips it over. This is your fortune. The two we sampled assured us that though we had some past difficulties in life, it was all good coming up. My card featured Durga, and promised prosperity.
Be that as it may, the difficulties in life are apparently not completely over. After walking to the heart of the Mela and then some, we thought we’d have a better chance of catching a ride on a busy road, but we had no idea we were on the busiest road….. Hailing an auto rickshaw, affectionately called a tuk-tuk because of the sound it makes, we settled in gratefully for a 30-minute ride across the river and downstream to campus. Our intrepid driver blasted his way down the back streets of old Allahabad so narrow that no jeeps, SUVs or cars could follow, and then down a muddy rutted back path to the river and up the bank toward the Mela.
But alas, an hour later, after being turned away from several pontoon bridges (how and when the roads and bridges into the Mela close seems to be a need to know basis, ie, you go and its either closed or it’s not), we are right back on Alopi Bagh road, in the heart of a terrible snarl of traffic, passing by the exact location where we first hailed the tuk-tuk. Nonetheless we are happy to be riding instead of walking, so we just enjoy the commotion and the ever-changing and dizzying sensory experience of India on the move, and finally arrive home two hours later, tired but happy. A column head in the paper this morning laments: “Another Day of Jam on Sangam Route.”And we were there. Twice.