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THE JAWAHARLAL NEHRU International Stadium at Kaloor, Kochi, will get literally international this week. The four-day Amritavarsham-50, the 50th birthday of Mata Amritanadamayi, will be held from September 24-27. Mata Amritanandamayi will reach Kochi on September 23. It will be a cosmopolitan gathering of different nationalities, different religions and different backgrounds, totalling one million people, as the organisers expect.

Supriti, an American customer-relations representative from Michigan, has taken a month's leave to come here. Helping to cut grass at the stadium, she says it is the first time that she has come to India and doing service is a joy.

Among the 15,000 volunteers, 3,500 have been deployed for the food section alone. The three-day training that the volunteers were given included meditation too. "Meditation is something that has to be done privately, not in a mass gathering, for the right effect," said Brahmachari Abhayamrita Chaithanya, the spokesperson of the organising committee.

Many who wanted to be volunteers were disappointed as the number needed was filled early. Said Sheela, who has come from Dubai, "I could not get here early enough to become a volunteer. Now I will have to be content with just being here." Every detail of the food to be given to everyone who comes to the venue has been taken care of. "The vegetables are from the neighbouring States," said Brahmachari Dhyanamrita Chaithanya. "If tomatoes are cheaper in Karnataka it will be bought from there. If Tamil Nadu has cheaper beans, then it's from there. We are getting vegetables from Andhra Pradesh too," he added. The lunch will be ashram-frugal, he says. Rice, sambar, aviyal or some other side dish, pappadams and pickle. The pickles, lemon and mango, were made well in advance and await the event in huge jars. Five lakh pappads are stored. More may be needed. They came all the way from Madurai.

Shamianas have come up on the outskirts to accommodate people who may not find accommodation. A huge roomful of mats, come all the way from Coimbatore, are stored at the stadium for the last-minute people who may need them.

Breakfast will be upma and dinner too. "Many people have donated sacks of rice. Volunteers have been trained to take care of the kitchen, with different sections minding the many jobs in the kitchen, like chopping vegetables, cooking and serving," he said.

Work in the stadium is almost through. Volunteers have been toiling throughout in shifts to make the place spotlessly clean. The gallery sections were bleached, scrubbed and cleaned. Large sections of the roof had to be leak-proofed too. Temporary toilets have been put up. "The job of cleaning the existing toilets proved to be tough as most of them were clogged," Dhyanamrita Chaithanya said. "After the event, GCDA will get back a clean stadium," he remarked. The water requirement for this mammoth meet was the most challenging. There is neither buttermilk nor rasam for the lunch, simply because the organisers wanted to cut down on the use of water and thought sambar would do. "Four litres of water per person. That is the quantity we have worked out for the whole meet. Anything outside this ration will topple plans," said Dhyanamritha Chaithanya. The organisers had to lay the pipeline from more than a kilometre away to bring in the water. With the rains nearly bidding adieu, water shortage may be the chief worry.

The police are taking no chances. Already, they have made plans to get additional police forces to mind the crowds and roads. The volunteers of Amritavarsham-50, all 15,000 of them, have been given a three-day training to equip them to handle the crowd as well as to get things smoothly done.

"Since the crowds that are to gather here are apolitical and have come on spiritual grounds, we do not expect any problems," said Dhyanamrita Chaithanya.

Among the 5,000 people from foreign lands, will be 30 media persons, including journalists from the New York Times and Washington Post, he added. The media centre will have all the facilities to send pictures and reports to newspapers and TV channels all over the world.

Six special feeders see to it that electricity doesn't play truant. Besides, backup generator facilities are ready too.

As early as June, work got started, the planning, the accounting, etc. Care homes for the elderly and one-lakh houses for the poor are major schemes that will take off in connection with the birthday celebrations.

Business establishments around the area are gearing up to meet the bright prospects that may emerge, for after all, people would love a cup of coffee or cold drink, won't they? At the same time they are worried that too big a crowd would hamper functioning. "We are happy that we can be of help to people who come from outside," said Shashi, who has a small business outside the stadium.

City folks are waiting to have a glimpse of the first citizen of the land and other dignitaries who are expected. The mass marriage of 108 couples will be one of the highlights. Saris and other accessories will be given to the couples by the organisers.

The meet will set in motion several other outfits that will serve the downtrodden, like the 1,008-member legal service body.

The mass of humanity that will descend on Kochi will hopefully go back, contented, considering the pains taken by the organisers and the city police.

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