Republic Day recollections

S Balakrishnan
My desire to witness the gala Republic Day parade in Delhi’s Rajpath is difficult to be realized at this age. Caged in the gallery/stand for hours together in the shivering foggy cold morning of Delhi, I can’t squirm trying very hard to control the overflowing tank (bladder). You see, as years pass by, security gets further tightened up. I wonder if the security protocol would permit catheter; I might be mistaken for a human bomb. They would perhaps credit me as the first male human bomb after the female human bomb that assassinated Rajiv Gandhi.  Why risk my precious life for the sake of R-Day parade ? So I usually settle down before the TV for the live telecast, immersed in the mighty show of our armed forces and the colorful cultural diversity of our Nation. One plus point of R-Day is that unlike Independence Day there is no long-drawn address. Thankfully it is telecast the previous evening itself by the President and, if you don’t prefer to listen it, you are most welcome to choose another channel out of the hundreds of channels. The first time I saw the live telecast of Delhi’s R-Day parade in B&W TV, I sat glued to the chair from beginning to end with my eyes and mouth open wide ! It was a repeat when I first watched it in colour. Before TV, it was the Films Division’s news reel in the cinema theatres that brought the parade to the nook & corner of our vast Nation.
Though not in the National capital, I have the credit of watching in person the R-Day parade in the far-off Port Blair, the tiny capital town of the Union Territory of Andaman & Nicobar Islands, in 1979.  With the blue sea on one side and the green hilly slopes on the other, the marine road that led to the South Point of the town was a perfect setting for the grand parade.  It was a nice day with pleasant breeze from the sea and moderate sunshine. I had purchased a small camera just on the first day of the month (and year), so I was excited at this great opportunity. From the backyard of my rented quarters on Radha-Gobind Mandir Road, I could notice brisk activity going on at the Gymkhana Ground since early morning. I reached the Ground by 8 am and went mad exposing two rolls till noon. The black-and-white Indu Panchro roll cost 7 rupees. Damn cheap, one might be tempted to exclaim; but 43 years back it was a considerable amount, a luxury indeed. Despite being the 5th & 6th rolls, most of the 35 snaps had turned out to be okay.  On the next Republic Day, I took my mother who visited me from Madras (Chennai).
My next posting was in Cuttack, Orissa (Odisha) but the capital had long since been shifted to Bhubaneswar. Though I was in Orissa for three Republic Days, I did not venture out to Bhubaneswar (30 kms. away) in the chilly January morning to witness the parade. I had to wait for 35 years to witness it in 2018. But it was a disappointment as we could position ourselves only at a distance from the VVIP stage. So by the time the parade participants came to where we were waiting, they were really tired and simply walked down without performing.  I looked pathetic before my family members to whom I had assured of very colourful tribal dances of Odisha! Damn my luck! The bad luck spoiled our R-Day plan in Rajasthan also. We were so excited of viewing Rajasthani folk dances and camel march but, alas, we were not allowed to carry mobile phones and cameras inside the stadium where the parade was held. I do not know how to term it – over cautious or ridiculous ?
Despite the peak winter in Gangtok, my third place of posting, I was present with my camera, now loaded with colour roll, to witness the R-Day parade. Though living in Chennai for 33 years, I never witnessed the R-Day parade in person because of the security hassles. I was planning to see the full-dress rehearsal at least, but the Covid pandemic has upset my plans.  If only I were to be invited as a special guest by the Central/State Government …!              
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