"Bhai, pass ka jugaad ho gaya hai. Kal parade dekhne chaloge?" (Pass has been arranged. Ready to see the parade tomorrow?) When I got a call at just past 00:00 hours (and it wasn't my birthday) I thought it was for inviting me to gorge on cake at somebody else's birthday celebration. "Yaar, itni subah kaun uthega? sochta hun..." (who will get up so early, let me give it a thought). After my failed attempt at arranging passes/tickets both this year and the last, the excitement for the Republic Day Parade had fizzled out. But now it had been rekindled, and the guilt of being in Delhi for 2 years without witnessing the fabled show finally brought me on board.
So on this freezing cold January morning at 6 am, 18 of us marched out of the hostel with loud chants of "Bharat Mata ki Jai", braving the sharp nip in the air. Hailing a Gramin Sewa auto-rickshaw (sharing type) that has a capacity of 7 but usually seats 12, all 18 of us stuffed in, leaving little interstitial space but a lot of space for Schottky and Frenkel defects (such inane analogies are a result of the author's abysmal knowledge of chemistry!)
With security restrictions enforcing the closer metro stations to remain non-operational, we got down at Jor Bagh station. Entry passes for different gates meant the group splitting up, and we started out on the long walk ahead (close to 4 kilometres!), crossing Safdurjung tomb and Tees January Marg, passing by foreigners, an NCC regiment and an assortment of specially marked cars. Reaching the serpentine queues at the enclosure's entrance a good half an hour post the stipulated time, we realized that if some of the others had their way, they would land up only after the final bugle was sounded! Waltzing through the security, we found prime location seats on the grassy patch right in front of Raj Path. Well, we had to squat and couldn't get a panoramic view, but being occasionally blessed by the sun and getting to see things up close took priority :)
The atmosphere was indeed electric, with motley crowds thronging the area, jostling for space and cajoling the security personnel to allow them a better view. The day's proceedings began with the Prime Minister paying homage at the Amar Jawan Jyoti, followed by the President and the guest of honour, Thailand's youngest and first female Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, proceeding for the same. They were escorted in swanky Mercedes', heavily cordoned on all sides. The Tiranga was unfurled, and all of us stood singing the national anthem. After the 3 (army, naval and air) chiefs of staffs presented their credentials, the actual parade began, with the President, also the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed forces, taking salute.
The Gallantry awardees breezed past us, proudly standing in jeeps, followed by tableaux and various regiments of the army, navy and air-force. The Remount & Veterinary Corps (Sniffer-dogs) tableau was quite unique, while the synchronized and crisp marching of the different regiments left us spell-bound. A notable mention was the Assam rifles, who in their 177-year history have won over a 1000 awards. The corresponding regimental bands followed, all playing various lively tunes to enthuse their contingents. The naval band was led by Ramesh Chand Katoch, the 14th time he was doing so. He has participated in 25 R-Day marches, no ordinary feat indeed!
The DRDO tableaux showcased an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (Rustom) and the Agni IV missile, a significant addition to our ballistic arsenal. The Border Security Force (BSF) with it's internationally acclaimed and one-of-its-kind Camel force and band was a treat. After the Delhi police contingent, the colourful state tableaux came in, each state vying to outdo the other. With 2011 being Rabindranath Tagore's 150th birth anniversary year, the West Bengal tableau featured a scene from Shantiniketan, while Goa, in its party-mood, was as effervescent as ever. A ritual where a person is possessed by a spirit formed Karnataka's theme, and the intricate architecture of Kashmir's blue-stone tomb and the house behind it was breathtaking. Rajasthan was represented by the Aamer palace, and Bihar showcased Dharahara village, where for every girl child born , the community plants 10 saplings. A great initiative for both life-forms!
The departmental tableaux followed next, with the Ministry of Finance highlighting its customs division, and the Horticultural department featuring children playing with fresh flowers as if it were snow! Two interesting tableaux were by the Election commission, making its debut in the R-day parade, and another one featuring handicrafts from all corners of India. The Literacy float looked unique, with a tree whose leaves and fruits were all made of letters! Children who had been selected for the National Bravery award went past next, smiling broadly, savouring this pristine moment with us being told of their exceptionally courageous feats.
There was a short break of sorts before the next event unfolded. Heeding to the commentators' advice that it promises to be a grand extravaganza, we took up vantage points in the seating area behind. And boy, did they deliver! The bike stunts were stunning to say the least - performers standing, sitting cross-legged, climbing a ladder, multiple-persons on single bike, and the largest, 29 persons on 9 bikes, left us spellbound. We realized that the silence and a brief time interval that followed was just the calm before the storm. Helicopters whirred past in a Hercules formation, and before we knew, MIG jets zoomed after them, and 5 Jaguar jets roared ahead touching 800 kmph. But the icing on the cake was the "Vertical Charlie" manoeuvre by a Sukhoi aircarft. The way it first flew horizontally above us and then took off at almost a 90 degrees angle was a breathtaking spectacle. If there was a provision, almost everyone would have wanted a repeat performance! Finally, balloons released in the air bade us goodbye, draping the blue-sky in a sea of tricolour. We clicked some group pics, and made our way towards Delhi's lifeline, the Metro, to head back to the hostel.
All in all, a great day out, filling us with a sense of pride about our culturally rich and diverse nation, our military prowess and our wonderful sense of unity. Jai Hind!