By Vijayta Mahendru Jan. 26, 2020
The Republic Day Parade celebrates the Constitution, itself an expression of the spirit of our country and its diversity – of dances and songs, physical features, historical characters and incidents; the countless stories that make up this glorious republic.
I ndian moms are known for going all-in when it comes to celebrating festivals at home, especially the big ones, like Holi or Diwali. For my mom — who was so patriotic Akshay Kumar should be making a film about her any day now — the biggest of them all was Republic Day. As we celebrate India’s 71th Republic Day, at a time when the country is more polarised than it has been in many of our lifetimes, her uncomplicated love for the country provides a comforting memory.
In our household, January 26 was the date of an annual nationalist ritual. Despite it being a holiday, my siblings and I would be woken up at 6:30 am, made to reluctantly bathe on a cold winter morning, and sat in a line in front of the television to watch the Republic Day Parade.
Participants walk next to floats along Rajpath during the Republic Day parade in New Delhi on January 26, 2020. Prakash SINGH / AFP
Participants walk next to floats along Rajpath during the Republic Day parade in New Delhi on January 26, 2020.
Prakash SINGH / AFP
It would begin with all of us standing to attention for a full-throated rendition of the national anthem while counting the 21-gun salute in our heads. Thereafter, mom would take up the task of parade narrator; the Doordarshan lady had nothing on her. Mom’s voice was laced with emotion, and we glimpsed the occasional tear while she described the ordeals of soldiers whose family members were accepting posthumous medals, followed by the march of the battalions. Then came her favourite part, which eventually became our favourite part as well: jhanki – the tableaux! Year after year, she would marvel at the beauty and creativity of different states, and through her we imbibed the spirit of our country and its diversity – of dances and songs, physical features, historical characters and incidents; the countless stories that told the tale of this glorious republic. It’s an especially poignant memory, given the tussles we’ve seen between the Centre and state governments over what is and isn’t permitted in the tableaux.
In between all this, we would be given halwa or some other simple home-made delicacy, another reminder of how special the day was. We revelled in the thrill of seeing the motorcycle daredevils and the fighter jets finally bringing the majestic ceremony to a close by painting rows of saffron, white, and green across the then-clear blue skies of Delhi. We’d spend the rest of the morning ranking tableaux and discussing how the President had to keep waving throughout the ceremony or how his PA was standing emotionless, like a statue, when we were moved to tears listening to the stories of martyred soldiers.
In our household, January 26 was the date of an annual nationalist ritual.
On the first Republic Day I spent away from home, when I began living in a hostel, I reached the common room early in the morning to watch the parade. I was shocked to see that not many girls were as excited as I was. Not even half-dozen out of a hundred. An even bigger shock was when one of the well-known remote-hoggers asked to change the channel in the middle of the ceremony! It was blasphemy in my eyes. Obviously, she had to wait before switching to some sports channel, as usual, but it left a deep impression on me. This girl was a national-level tennis player, and I had thought patriotism had a template and everybody felt it in the same way. It made me realise that we are fortunate to be born in a free republic and it’s up to the people to decide how they will (or will not) express their love for the country.
For me, I got the chance to make the ultimate expression when I went for the real parade, sitting in those green stands where happy people waved at the cameras. It was the 65th Republic Day, in the year 2014. Reaching those scenic stands is no mean feat, by the way. There were 10 times the number of people behind the stands as there were in them, all bearing VVIP passes like myself. Jumping barricades, fighting with police and army men, and tagging along behind some seemingly resourceful people, I managed to reach the final barrier. There, as I was being helped by an army man to climb the bamboo staff, someone in the rush, happened to hit me across my face, shooting my spectacles into the air. A good samaritan handed me the broken specs back, when I had crossed over. I didn’t care, and just ran straight to the stands. As soon as I entered, the cavalry leading a black limousine carrying our President was crossing by! I’d made it right on time.
Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) women motorcycle team members perform during the Republic Day parade in New Delhi on January 26, 2020. Prakash SINGH / AFP
Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) women motorcycle team members perform during the Republic Day parade in New Delhi on January 26, 2020.
Prakash SINGH / AFP
Throughout the ceremony, I was simultaneously thrilled to be there as well as reliving all those mornings in my living room with my mom. Watching the parade live is an experience like no other. What happened behind the stands, however, did not fail to make an impact on me, as I clutched onto the pieces of my spectacles. We Indians like to hold ourselves to high moral standards, but we need to recognise ourselves for who we really are, behind as well as in front of the stands – chaotic, overpopulated, diverse, proud, competitive, but one! At a time when we see deep fissures appearing in our polity, this realisation will help us build a new consensus based on the ideals of our constitution, the bringing forth of which we celebrate so beautifully. Happy Republic Day to all!