Ah, the Republic Day Parade. Such a tradition. Such an excuse to sit in the winter sun and be patriotic. Such a traffic mess on the day itself. I attended this year and made notes so I could recap it here for you.
|*not me in traffic*|
1) When they say “all roads are closed” they really do mean “all roads are closed.” One assumed with a VIP car parking sticker (I have friends in high places), I'd be able to zoom across the distance and get to the parade in plenty of time. Instead, imagine a straight line between my house and the parade venue. Then imagine a crazy doodle curving and spinning all across the page. The little spot on the crazy doodle? That was me in my car.
2) Once I got there, obviously the VIP section (with booths! Near the President!) was closed, so I was sent off to sit with the “regular people.” There were rows of seats on the grass and a set of theatre style bleachers at the back. Those filled up the first. In the rows of seats on the lawn, people stood up to look at floats and marching, leading to lots of shouts, and in one case, a very heated argument from the back.
|LET'S GO FLY A KITE, UP WHERE THE SKY IS BRIGHT|
3) Some people got a printed programme which was very useful in identifying what was actually going on in front of you. There was audio commentary, but they only started talking about the various displays once they reached the VIP section, leading to a distinct audio lag for those of us in the cheap seats. (Unfortunately, I didn't notice the programme until much later, when I stole it from a seven-year-old who looked really upset, until I reasoned with her that she didn't need two, after all.)
|On the plus side, did not have to suffer these children doing their annual day dance|
4) We got there just in time to see the helicopters flying overhead us. Funny how something so out of a dystopian film—the distinct whirr of their blades, the feeling like war is imminent—could elicit so much fond feeling in those of us sitting below. The cheers only grew louder as a faint scattering of rose petals dropped on the audience. I felt the same way when we watched the fly past in the end with jets leaving contrails in the sky. Those things are used for weapons and bombs and yet, we all paused to gawp at them.
|Hi! I'm a helicopter! Look at my friendly flag! Totally not going to kill you!|
5) The biggest success was the dog squad. Adorable Alsations and Labradors looking very proud of themselves, tongues lolling out, trotting professionally besides their handlers, except for one in the back row who looked around him with obvious pleasure at the outing. The other animals, i.e, the BSF Camels Contingent were no less popular. The camels were decorated with gorgeous mirrorwork shawls and their handlers all had proud mustaches. However, I'm not sure if riding a camel is the best way to defend a border, but maybe the camels are just for show and they have tanks or jeeps or something less likely to buck and throw you off it.
|WHO'S A GOOD BOY? I AM! I AM A GOOD BOY!|
6) A bit more baffling were the random “mechanised columns” showing off our weaponry. (When I say “our” I mean “India's,” not mine personally, but this leads me to a whole discourse on how Republic Day is basically an exercise in saying “our this” and “our that,” which I will get to in the next point.) Not only do the missiles and radar equipment make for an extremely boring tableau, but they seemed rather pointless in that these large phallic shaped things were obviously meant to inspire confidence and show us where our tax money is going, but it felt like a bit of a waste. (Especially to me and my extremely pacifist leanings.)
|What's long and thick and full of seamen?|
Har de har har.
7) A few words on whipping up a patriotic frenzy as Republic Day is meant to do. This year, along with the actual parade, there's also a “Patriotism Fair” on in Delhi's Red Fort with the army band playing and stalls from around the country and what not. Now, food is great, as is a good marching band, but it all stinks slightly of jingoism to me. There's a thin line between being proud of your country and fanaticism, and the problem with shows like the Republic Day parade (and to a great extent, the Wagah Border ceremony where soldiers stamp the ground to demonstrate their aggression) is that it doesn't encourage you to think of the problems. You see the army, the men who are basically fodder for wars that are stupid, the children in the NCC, and so on, and you can't help wondering whether there's a better solution. And the government doesn't want you to think that way, they want you to keep going with the Everything Is Awesome narrative they're laying at your feet so you can salute the soldiers, stand to attention with the national anthem and so on and so forth.
|I CAME IN LIKE A WRECKING BALLLLLL|
8) And finally on a lighter note, the state floats were hilarious this year. Everyone noticed Chandigarh which chose to express itself with a man reading a newspaper in the park while people exercised around him, but no eyebrows raised for the Goa float? Which showed, incongruously, large statues of Hanuman and Ganesh, because when you think of Goa, obviously that's what you think of first. Hindu Gods. The digital India float, as dull as it was, got the most claps as the crowds around me started whispering, “Look! It's cell phones!”
|Totally standing in line to go into a temple.|
(A version of this post appeared as my column in mydigitalfc.com)