Monday, January 26, 2015

20 Thoughts I Had While Watching The Republic Day Parade

India celebrated its 66th Republic Day today. 85 years ago this day, a group of people in the British colony of India had proclaimed Purna Swaraj, and almost 20 years from that day, India celebrated the birth of the Constitution, a governing document for Indians, by Indians!

For the first time in last 20 or so years, I woke up early specially to watch the live telecast of Republic Day Parade, and saw it till the end, instead of just bits and parts. And no, it wasn't because Barack Obama was the Chief Guest or because Narendra Modi was the Prime Minister. It was probably because it was the last day of the long weekend, and so a lazy sleep-in was not really a change of routine. Besides, it was a tradition (I think in all families across India) to cuddle in a cozy razai and watch the proud display of India's military prowess and cultural diversity. 

So, sitting alone in my flat, as I watched the Parade, and kinda reminisced about special morning assemblies in school and waking up to Maa Tujhe Salaam blaring from the loudspeakers in hostel, I decided to document all that struck me about this year's Parade.This piece may be a bit long (the parade was long too), but do read it till the end!

1. The very first thing that I noticed was how long it had been since I had heard pure, and correct, Hindi being spoken, and how beautiful it sounded. The Hindi spoken in movies, or TV (even News channels) is plain and broken, and the one we speak has more English than Hindi. So, the commentary,monotonous as it was, was very much welcome.

2. As the commentator described the valor of this year's Ashok Chakra awardees, I wondered if I (and other fellow citizens) would remember their names even two hours later. Sure, we get goosebumps and all while listening to Sandese aate hain or Ae mere watan ke logon, but as citizens, we do precious little to honor those who lay down their lives for us. This year, the award was given posthumously to Naik Neeraj Kumar Singh and Major Mukund Vardarajan, who died while battling terrorists in Kashmir. Let us try to remember those names this year.

3. I was quite delighted by seeing military veterans marching down the Rajpath. These are the people who lived to tell the tales of true heroes, and it was heartening to see them be a part of this prestigious parade.

4. I literally let out a squeal of cheer when the marching band of Birla Balika Vidyapeeth, Pilani came into picture. For 5 years, my deep winter slumbers in Pilani had been broken by the Republic Day parade rehearsals of the girls in the school adjacent to my hostel. So it was a matter of pride to see these girls march so confidently down the Rajpath. You go, girls, even though you don't let anyone sleep in Meera Bhawan.

5. When the tableau from Goa came up, I couldn't help but notice how celebratory their music was. It was perhaps the most joyful and chilled out background score in the entire parade. Seriously, if anyone in India knows how to party, it's Goans!

6. A total of 27 contingents marched in the parade today. These included 9 regiments of the army, contingents from the Air Force, Navy, Paramilitary and other auxiliary civil forces (such as BSF, Coast Guard, CRPF, Railway Police, etc.). Just something to think about.

7. Did anyone else notice how the camera panned to Uma Bharti when the Madhya Pradesh tableau came up, to Nitin Gadkari when Maharashtra came up or Manohar Parrikar when it was Goa? Though it was cute how they all got up to cheer for their states, I think it is debatable whether to continue to see them as regional leaders when they are supposed to be national leaders. And there is no right answer in this debate. 

8. The Uttarakhand tableau depicted a trip to Kedarnath. It somehow brought up the image of a submerged Kedarnath as a result of floods in 2013. How excessive commercial construction affects the stability of such areas is also a good theme I think.

9. Did you notice that there was a small marigold garland hanging on every tableau, indicating that some form of Puja must have been done before starting?

10. Kids among the spectators seemed to be enjoying the parade so much. This is what is great about the Republic Day parade - the camera looks for proud and excited faces, not the prettiest ones.

11. There is such a multitude of sects and tribes in India, most of which we haven't heard about and frankly, don't even think about. And Indians do wear their hearts on their sleeves (and proudly so). If you think about it, it really is difficult to have a clash-free India. Difficult, but hopefully not impossible.

12. The second time I cheered was when the UP tableau came up, depicting Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Awadh. I think I was just pleased about the fact that they showed erstwhile Awadh (present Lucknow). And there were Kathak dancers on the tableau. Apparently Wajid Ali Shah was known for patronizing fine arts. I just found this out. There's so much we don't know.

13. The Jammu and Kashmir tableau displayed their folk dances, and one of the songs played was "Roshe Valle". I faintly remembered it as the song that Tabu sings in Haider. And this is where you truly realize the impact of Indian cinema. A song may have been sung in a region for years (Sasuraal Genda Phool is another example) but it becomes recognizable only after it features in a Bollywood movie.

14. The "Make In India" lion arrived accompanied with a very techno music. This may have been enough to make it stand out from the rest of the tableaux. Sadly, there was not much else in the tableau. 

15. Speaking of music, the background score for the tableau for AYUSH medicine was a complete contrast from the modern beats of the Make In India tableau. It totally reminded you of the public welfare commercials shown on DD. Though I was glad that AYUSH medicine had a representation, considering a lot more people go for Ayurved and Homeopathy than care to admit, I wish they would've used a more catchy and less preachy song to promote this branch of medicine. Same goes for all other ministries, and for the troupes that danced to celebrate Mangalyaan or Swachchh Bharat Abhiyaan. 

16. The "Beti Bachao" tableau was followed by the "Jan Dhan Yojana" tableau. The commentator remarked that if you have a "Ghar ki Lakshmi", real "Lakshmi" will definitely follow. Cheesy as it was, it could be effective in changing the perception of people who see girls as a liability. But wouldn't it still be sad?

17. As the recipients of this year's Bravery Awards came by, I felt glad that we do something like this, awarding bravehearts from obscure places in India. On digging a little deeper (read referring to the Wiki page), I found out that the first such awards were given in 1958 after Jawahar Lal Nehru witnessed a young boy save lives of hundreds of people in a fire that broke out in Ramlila Grounds during a performance. This was when Nehru decided to felicitate such courage.

18. I wonder who conceived the idea to hold such a parade every year on Republic Day. Was it a tradition for another occasion that was handed down to us by the British? Or was there someone who thought that several years after India became a republic, Indians would need something to stay connected to the spirit of the day, and to each other, diverse as we are? Seriously, an answer to this will be very much welcome.

19. As the parade commenced with the National Anthem, I couldn't help but admire how easily it infuses patriotism into everyone, whether it is on a national holiday, in a school assembly or a movie theater. Maybe we have just been conditioned to feel so over the years, or maybe everyone just pretends for a while so as not to offend anyone. Whatever it is, for 52 seconds, it seems to hold everyone together. And given point no. 11, I think it does a lot!

20. A constant theme in my mind was how all our patriotism and unity suddenly surfaces on Republic Day and Independence Day, while we keep trying to bring each other down the rest of the year. My cynicism was however diluted when I remembered an incident that happened when Modi was visiting Pune. 
I was going somewhere with a couple of friends in an auto, and stuck in traffic, we were waiting for Modi's cavalcade to leave so that the roadblock is removed. Suddenly,some 4-5 motorcyclists furiously started blasting their horns. It turned out, there was an ambulance behind them, and it couldn't move ahead. By creating a ruckus with the horns, the motorcyclists made all two wheeler drivers ahead of them move into tiny spaces between the cars. Suddenly, an autowallah appeared, and like a deft traffic cop, directed the cars to make a path for the ambulance. Now, there was just one car in front of the ambulance and it could have easily used the newly formed path to move ahead with the ambulance, but the man who was driving the car parked it somewhere on the footpath, allowing the ambulance to go first. The ambulance moved ahead, and within a couple of minutes, the traffic also dissolved. 
Nobody knows if it made it in time, and probably no one even cared. But they cared enough to get into action when there was a need. Not all of us can take up the bigger issues facing the country, not all of us have the passion to do so, but if we care and act when it is required, I think we'll be good. This republic, let's just be a good public.

While Independence Day is a reminder of how we became a free country, Republic Day is a salute to where we are taking this free country. And though things may not be perfect, the parade often reminds us that we are getting there, and that we have a rich heritage and vast resources to take us there. Happy Republic Day. Jai Hind.