Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Aye Mere Watan Ke Logon…

‘Bharat Humko Jaan Se Pyaara Hain’ ( in Hariharan’s voice resonating from my friend’s car at 1:15 am reminded me that it was already India’s 61st Gantantra Diwas.

‘Kal chutti hain, aur kuch der baith jao’ was what I had said when they were starting to leave at 12:30p.m.

It is the truth. Republic day, for most of India’s billions today, is just another ‘chutti’. Late nights, late mornings, a lazy afternoon, a movie perhaps.

Thank God for a pukka Dilliwalla husband who woke me up with ‘Mera Rang de Basanti Chola’ ( playing loud enough for the whole neighbourhood to realise it was time to tune in to Doordarshan Kendra’s sidha prasaran of the Grand Parade!

It was foggy, foggier than it was last year. And as the commentator kept reminding you every 10 seconds, the fog was not in the least bit a deterrent to the hundreds who had gathered at Rajpath for the beautiful spectacle. It, infact, added a fairy tale effect to the whole event.

It never fails to fill my heart with a sense of pride…the jawans in their smart winter ceremonials, the magnificent India Gate with the Amar Jawan Jyoti burning consistently for the last 39 years, the floral rangolis, the padded children awaiting the Parade unmindful of the biting cold. Yes, for some, it is not after all just a ‘chutti’.

As I stood glued to the TV with my cup of steaming ginger tea, watching our PM paying tribute to those who had laid down their lives (so that we can watch TV sipping hot ginger tea), the poignant notes of the last post as always made my eyes grow moist. The customary 2 minutes silence isn’t so customary, I realised.

I tried to explain to my maid (who was equally glued to the TV!) why this day was different.
She, a hyderabadi, who has never known winter as in ‘Delhi winter’ couldn’t for the life of her understand the excitement amidst the crowd in colourful overcoats, toupees and scarves.

‘Transmission is so bad, didi’.
I realised she also didn’t understand the fairy tale effect!

‘That’s dhund/kohra. Not bad transmission’

‘Then why are all those people out there in the cold?’

It was difficult but I tried to explain. I also tried to explain why early in the morning P stuck the tricolour miniatures on the dashboard of our car.

And why, as the National Anthem played in its full glory and the splendidly attired militia marched past, as P put it, it was worth the wait.
Since 6 a.m. in the cold, dark morning, as he recounts, for the 9:35 a.m. parade. No complains because he had special keema sandwich and cups of hot tea to keep him going.
That was 1982 and this is 2010. Though even a bottle of water is no longer allowed within 100 metres of Rajpath on D day, 10 year olds still choose to be out there rather than in their warm, air-conditioned, home theatre lounges.

Any number of 26/11s or threats of para-gliding suicide bombers, cannot take away the pride and spirit of freedom from those who identify with it.

As the dignitaries arrived, I realised one fact. Indian economy sure has leaped in bounds!!! Fleets of B7-level armored BMW 7 Series (Black for the PM and White for the VP) and stretched and armored Mercedes-Benz S-Class (for the President) screamed affluence.

Despite the numerous TV viewings of the Republic Day parade on Rajpath (atleast 15 in my 30 odd years) the Armed Forces, in their glamorous march, never fail to take my breath away. Even as they showed off their newly acquired defence equipment, Lata Mangeshkar’s melodious notes echoed on Rajpath the song ( that once had moved Pandit Nehru to tears.

I no longer need to clear any General Knowledge exams, but like those days back in school, I had my ears tuned to pick up all the remarkable facts about our ‘shashastra sena bal’ as the commentator rattled them off in the emotion ridden, crystal clear ‘shudh Hindi’!

The Khukri wielding Gurkhas from Nepal still are an integral part of Indian guerrilla warfare, the Jat Regiment, with their battle cry, adopted in 1955 जाट बलवान जय भगवान, has fought every battle for Indian soil since inception and now fights the foreign mercenaries in Kashmir, the Delhi Police stands tall (literally), with no relaxation in physical criteria for recruitment!

This Hindi of the Nalanda University lectures, of Javed Akhter’s lyrics and the chants of the Kumbh Mela further added to the aura of the Republic Day Parade.

As we sat across the breakfast table awaiting the colourful tableaux, I could feel the jubilation in those gathered at Rajpath.
The fog had lifted slightly to make way for rays of sunshine as if to honour the event.

Faces, known and unknown were caught vividly by the roving camera eyes.

‘That sure is an important man’, I said, as the camera caught P.Chidambaram.
‘Not anymore’, said P, ‘he is much more important’, referring to Pranab Mukherjee applauding as excitedly as a little girl in her yellow jacket, the tableau from Mijoram, playing S.D. Barman’s composition.’ He is going to decide how much money we shall be left with after the taxation!’

Even before the serene notes of the santoor registered, Dr. Farooq Abdullah’s dignified image filled the screen. The tableau from our very own Switzerland passed by.
A twinge of sadness never fails to touch my heart at any mention of this beautiful state. Those of us who has watched Tahaan ( would understand the vagaries that affect the simple but very beautiful people of Kashmir.

Can we ever do anything to change things? Or will the likes of us be content with buying exotic kashmiri apples in air-conditioned malls, swoon over a Rohit Bal (million bucks worth) Pashmina shawl and just cry over a movie?

I wondered what was going through Dr. Abdullah’s mind as he loudly cheered the handsome people of his homeland while the famous, romantic Kashmiri folklore "Walo mashooq myaaney" played in the background.

The dabbawallas( ) of Mumbai sure changed the mood. The Maharastrian in President Pratibha Patil couldn’t resist explaining excitedly to her South Korean counterpart Lee Myung-bak, the uniqueness of this ‘institution’.

By now, P had given me ample reminders of the lateness of the hour. What can be more incongruous than emergency duty at the hospital!

The fairy tale parade had to be abandoned as I rushed off for a quick round of the patients, promising to myself, ‘I shall be back before the sukhois fly by’.

But what I didn’t expect were the little tricolour badges on every hospital employee’s shirt!

Giri, our ward attendant wouldn’t probably be able to tell me what Republic Day means, but I was overwhelmed when he said ‘Happy Republic Day, madam’.

Though the Indian Airforce had gone on to end the parade with their grand ceremonial fly past without me cheering them on, my day was made.

Cheers to Us Indians and the spirit of Indian-ness!

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