Bombay Diary - A Republic Day to Remember!

~by Raj Melville

It was amazing to watch the 62nd annual Republic Day parade in New Delhi broadcast over TV. A visit to family resulted in my being in India on January 26th, the official date when India formally became a republic by ratifying its constitution. Thirty plus years ago when I left India, TV was still in its infancy. We considered ourselves lucky then to have a large set at home which broadcast the single government channel – Doordarshan – in exciting black and white. I do not recall seeing any of the parades while I was growing up except in the newspapers the next day or in grainy newsreels in theaters before the main feature.

So it was with great anticipation I settled down to watch the annual pageant that showcased the diversity of India. Rajpath, the main avenue from Rashtrapati Bhavan (the President’s residence) to the towering India Gate was lined deep with thousands of spectators.

With bilingual commentary in English and Hindi, the TV anchors pointed out the key features of the various participants. Drawn from all the different branches of the armed forces, the various volunteer militias and service groups as well as from the different states, the marching and dancing groups truly were a cross-section of the country celebrating the process that created the world’s largest democracy.

Each group came by the review stand where the President of India, Pratibha Patil a diminutive lady (America please note), saluted the contingents. The high stepping groups from the various armed forces included the camel regiment from Rajasthan and, what must be a first, a camel-mounted brass band. The precision of the elite marchers was truly awe-inspiring, their hands swinging high in choreographed coordination.  If one was to believe the TV commentators, you had to be over 6 feet tall to be selected for most of the participating armed forces groups. The massive tanks, jet fighters and troop carriers on display spoke to India’s coming of age as a regional superpower. It was inspirational to see squads of fresh young faces from the various colleges marching as part of the NCC (National Cadet Corps) and NSC (National Service Corps) troupes. And it was somewhat incongruous to view a bunch of kilted Indians marching in a bagpipe band, one of the show’s favorites. A selection of states provided huge tableaux that depicted highlighted their region usually accompanied by a corresponding folk dance troupe.

The finale was a daredevil squad of motorcycle riders from the Signal Corps riding their motorcycles while balancing 7 or 8 eight riders on their shoulders. The various formations included a massive pyramid of 35 people perched on 9 motorcyclists, a Guinness record we were informed.  And no Republic parade would be complete without the fly past. Three attack helicopters were followed by a giant IL 78 transport flanked by half a dozen smaller aircraft. A group of three Sukhoi 30 jets disappeared in a puff of smoke as they pulled up into a vertical roll.

Finally after a moving rendition of the Indian national anthem, the presidential guard, ramrod straight on shiny black horses, cantered to the review stand to escort madam president to the awaiting limousine. On the whole a wonderful exhibition of pomp, power, and pageantry.