‘Bambazi’ seems to be the buzzword after CCTV footage of Umesh Pal’s killing in UP’s Prayagraj showed Guddu Muslim — one of the close aides of gangster-turned-politician Ateeq Ahmed — hurling crude bombs at the key witness in the 2005 BSP MLA Raju Pal murder case and his two gunners.
While it may be hogging headlines now, the word ‘Bambazi’ is not new to the lanes and by-lanes of Prayagraj or erstwhile Allahabad. People, especially the old timers who hail from the Old City area, say ‘Rangbazi’ and ‘Bambazi’ are an intrinsic part of ‘Allahabadi’ culture.
‘Rangbazi’ and ‘Bambazi’
“Both the terms that are quite often used in local parlance are as famous as Allahabad’s Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb (the syncretic Hindu-Muslim culture). ‘Rangbazi’ defines the dressing sense, the fashion quotient of the youth of Allahabad that is unique and ‘Bambazi’ — which is used to define crude bomb attacks — is quite a common practice in Allahabad. Both the terms are a part of Allahabad’s culture,” said Abhaya Awasthi, former vice-president of Allahabad University (AU) students’ union and a social scientist who strongly believes that ‘Allahabad ki har gali ka bambaz alag hai’.
First recorded in 1972
Of the many theories that highlight the typical ‘Bambazi culture’ in Allahabad, one suggests that the first incident of bomb use was recorded in 1972. “It was the first time we heard of a crude bomb attack in Allahabad. It was used in an incident reported on the banks of river Yamuna in Sadiyapur locality near Mirzapur where a local gangster named Purri used it for the first time in a gang war. After the incident, Purri became famous as ‘Purri Bambaz’ with expertise in assembling crude bombs in a pipe socket which later became known as socket bombs,” Awasthi added.
Awasthi said it all began with the Naxalite movement that was led by Charu Mazumdar, the Communist leader and founder of Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) in 1967. It was during the same movement that a Naxalite named Raju made Sadiyapur his hideout where he taught his aide Purri how to prepare a socket bomb.
Sadiyapur is famous for its shrimp rearing, a bulk of which is exported to Bengal. With the bomb, country-made firearms, knives, battens, knuckles and other weapons that were often used in brawls took a backseat, paving way for the new weapon which soon became the preferred choice of gangsters of Allahabad.
The reason behind the popularity of crude bombs was the ‘effect’. “Bombs, especially crude bombs, hold a distinct position when it comes to weapons. Also, the person who has expertise in assembling bombs enjoys aristocratic patronage among gangsters and holds a distinct rank in the gang,” says Brij Lal, a 1977 batch IPS officer and former Director General of Police (DGP).
More Panic, Larger-than-life Image
Brij Lal, who is an Allahabad University alumnus, was posted in Prayagraj during the initial days of his career when the culture of ‘Bambazi’ was fast catching up among the youth of Allahabad. Lal was posted as Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) from 1979 to 1981 and as SP Rural from 82 to 83 in Allahabad.
The retired IPS officer, who had worked extensively to keep a check on crude bombs in Prayagraj, said: “It’s the ‘bomb effect’ that made it popular among gangsters and youth. Usage of bombs causes sound and smoke, which adds to the terror and creates panic among people. The panic caused due to bombing is much more than that caused by any other weapon, creating a larger-than-life image of the ‘Bambaz’.”
Another reason behind the popularity of crude bombs, he said, is that they create a kind of shroud during an attack and hence are preferred the most. “This is similar to what is seen in the CCTV footage of Umesh Pal killing, where Guddu Muslim was spotted hurling bombs, giving a cover to the other shooters to accomplish the mission with ease.”
Lal also cited cost effectiveness as one of the reasons behind the weapon’s rise. “Acquiring a country-made firearm and arranging for cartridges is expensive compared to assembling a crude bomb for which the components can be bought easily from the general market at a cost of less than Rs 100,” he pointed out.
In the 1980s, when Allahabad was heading towards development and unemployment was at its peak, the culture of ‘Bambazi’ spread like wildfire among the youth who often saw it as a tool to gain popularity, Awasthi said.
Of the many ‘Bambaz’ who cropped up in almost every locality, Shauk-e-Ilahi alias Chand Baba turned out to be the biggest and most dreaded ‘Bambaz’ of the 80s. Apart from him, Manoj Pasi, Manoj Bhindi and Guddu Muslim were other dreaded ‘Bambaz’.
Zia Ubaid Khan, a local corporator who resides in Sabzi Mandi Mohalla in the Chowk area, said in those days, when unemployment was at its peak, a dreaded gangster like Chand Baba was seen as the youth’s role model. Charmed by his personality, many youngsters learnt to make crude bombs in order to steal the limelight.
By the 90s, ‘Bambazi’ gradually spread over from the Old City area and engulfed the entire city. The Allahabad University was no exception. Not only organised gangs, the usage of crude bombs became a routine affair even in normal brawls, AU student union elections and festivals and celebrations.
“It would be wrong to say that the crude bomb makers didn’t evolve themselves. Yes, they did and after the evolution of socket bomb — the first kind used in Allahabad in 1972 — they evolved sutli bomb (prepared from jute string), chhota dhamaka (prepared in shoe polish box), and dibba bomb–, which is the most widely used bomb prepared in a box of pan masala or paint,” Khan said.
Of these, he says the crude bomb that is most unique to Allahabad’s history is the one prepared by a grocer in the outer covering of wood apple (Kaitha) that was used in the Loknath Sabzi Mandi of Allahabad.
He claimed that the craze of crude bomb-making left many amateur bomb-makers one-handed as many lost their hands in accidental explosions. Allahabad is still home to over 200 one-handed ‘Bambaz’.
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