Saturday, 26 January 2013

Eyes Right

 There are times when you have to feel good about India. In the prevailing atmosphere of extreme negativity, it is easy to fall into the trap of despair. Patriotism may be the last refuge of the scoundrel (no thanks Samuel Johnson), but it has its uses and I don't mind being a scoundrel. The Republic Day parade is one such occasion, to feel good.

I know very few watch the parade these days, but it is an eminently watchable spectacle. Other countries put on a show like this - the Bastille Day parade in France and the Victory Day parade in Russia, being the more prominent. But the Indian parade is extremely impressive and can raise goose pimples, especially if you can understand the honour and significance of it.

It all begins with the laying of the wreath at the Amar Jawan Jyothi - the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the sounding of the Last Post - a tribute to the fallen. The Parade itself is rich in tradition. The President's bodyguard gives the order for the National Salute and you cannot but help feel a lump in the throat as the National Anthem in played. After the Parade Commanders, come the living recipients of the Param Vir Chakra and the Ashok Chakra - India's highest gallantry medals.  This year it was nice to see all the three living PVC holders in the parade - Subedar Major Bana Singh, Naik Subedar Yogendra Singh Yadav and Havaldar Sanjay Kumar. The 61st cavalry often leads out the marching contingents - this is probably the last Cavalry regiment anywhere in the world ; old traditions kept alive.  The impeccably turned out Army contingents lead the parade - this year the famous Maratha Light Infantry, the Dogra Regiment, the Kumaon Regiment, the Garhwal Rifles were all there - regiments with traditions going back 200 years. The Air Force contingent had a surprise with Flight Lieutenant Heena Pore leading - probably the first time a lady officer was the commandant . When the camera cut to probably her family wildly cheering, you could not have failed to be moved. Contingents vie with each other to win the best marching contingent award. To me the highlight is often the NCC boys and the NCC Girls contingent ; when she gives the call to salute the President, you can't quell the surge of emotion.

I normally discount the cultural shows that follow ; the military parade is the highlight. Its is an honour to march - if you wish to know how much of an honour it is and how much of training and selection precedes it, read this lovely account by Smriti Rao.

The dampener is the extremely poor coverage by Doordarshan. For a lesson on how not to cover an occasion of such grandeur, turn to Doordarshan. They have to cut all the time to show the faces of sundry VIPs - this being Delhi after all. How can you cut away, when the commandant's deep bass voice is giving the command for the salute. They couldn't even get the national anthem right - there was static and blackouts. Yuk !

But despite Doordarshan, this is an event that can make riveting viewing. You can watch it here, if you like.

Which is why, I say - I am sorry Colleen Braganza - I simply cannot stomach your article in the DNA.  There is a time to protest and make your voice heard. There is also a time to honour and cherish.


Deepa said...

Yep! I am one of the fews who watch it, and for obvious reason... But not this year... :) I had a baby to commemorate the day! :)

Sriram Khé said...

hmmm .... I understand intellectually that societies have celebrations. ..... but, ... I have never been a fan of such celebrations. the few TV years i had in India, I don't recall watching the parade ... here in the US, never watched the Macy's Parade, or the Prez inaug, or any such thing .... never watched any Olympics parade .... so, ...

A parade of a sort that I want to go watch is the Puri Jagannath Rath Yatra ... the whole thing is just mind boggling to even read about. ... my parents have been there and the descriptons were aweome ... some day, I will brave the heat and the humidity and be there ....

By now, you are probably thinking, "Don't rain on my parade" ;)

Ramesh said...

@Deepa - Oh yes - being from a family of defence stalwarts, I would have expected that. Separate email to you on the delightful news.

@Sriram - Oh - no problems with the rain on the parade - if we don't have different views, the world will be a boring place. But seriously, the Jagannath rath festival ??? Eeven the devout will be challenged there. But You ????

Ravi Rajagopalan said...

A very moving comment.

This year being the third Republic Day for my daughter, she was the first off the blocks to the lawn downstairs for the flag hoisting. Though she is extremely conscious of her British birth, she now finds meaning in a ceremony in which people who look like her and speak like her congregate in front of a flag. She finds meaning in her Indian identity. She is conscious of the fact that she looks different from her friends left behind in England, and in time, she will reconcile her differences and her similarities with the rest of humanity. As a parent, watching her assume this identity is fascinating in itself.

It is entirely possible that had she been born in the United States, the Fourth of July would have been a natural event in her life. Even so, I imagine that the lure of being a member of that part of humanity – which by colour and culture constitutes one sixth of the world – is an affiliation that cannot be easily resisted.

At the lawns I picked up some stray comments about how bad the Pakistanis were – beheading our jawans, shooting across the border, etc. I pointed out that our people were capable of doing the same thing to them. People bristled. Chests started to fill. And then a friend whose father served with 2 Rajput all his life, came to my defence and said, yes, we do the same thing. Do you know what its like to stand guard at a poorly defined border, in a hostile area like J&K, he said. You don’t know who is shooting at you and whom you are shooting at. Your mind plays tricks.

I then thought about a friend’s brother-in-law – handsome and martial Coorgis all – who had to leave the army because he tore every single ligament on both his knees. Rather than spend the rest of his life behind a desk, he chose to quit. Why? As a company commander at one of the earliest units posted on Siachen in the late 80s, he had a massive stomach upset while on patrol on the glacier. He pulled off his pants to take a dump. He did not care that it was -20C. When he had finished, he could not straighten his legs – they froze. His men pulled him up, and in the process he suffered the injury.

Not all of our men in uniform die glorious deaths. A lot of them suffer minor injuries, even non-combat injuries like the one above. Our system is quite callous and sometimes these people are not well looked after. How will this major explain his injury as he limps into a drawing room?

At such times, it is important that we all look at awe at the pomp and glory that service represents. Everyone needs to be part of something larger and grander than the grind of our quotidian existence. For us armchair warriors, the worst that can happen is a bad day at the office. For these soldiers, it could be death – or even worse, an injury that ends their ability to live full lives.

Which is why the parade is worth watching. To participate in their glory for one day. Because if that churlish woman who wrote in the paper really means that she is ashamed of the Republic Day parade, she must carry a weapon and stand on the wall. And then lets find out how she fares.

Asha said...

AWESOME Thoughts, beautifully articulated.

Smriti Rao's account reads like that of my 16 year old.

wrt DNA article,I am a proud resident of a country with one billion consumers and just a few million contributors proudly marching with the developed countries. Each one of us have to be morally responsible Why blame only the goverment, after all aren't we the ones who voted them. Every country has its harms and charms and we have to be responsible and contribute to the 10,000 year history . What say?

Ramesh said...

@Ravi - I can, but marvel, atsuch a masterful comment. Any response would be inadequate before that. I shall simply read, re read and applaud.

@Asha - Beautifully said Asha. Completely agree with you.

Vincy said...

Thanks Ramesh for such an informative post. ( ahhh.. when was it not?) Bored of the DD telecast of the parades long ago when there was no other option, these days, i do not bother watchng it. but i have secretly harbored a wish to watch a parade live - some day! With all the facts you have said in the post, its going to be worth the wait.

gils said...

my dad used to take us to watch the parade on the marina. as a kid i was always fascinated by the missles on display and all those tanks. it was a time when national anthem was played on TV also i used to stand up and keep quiet :) howmuchever anyone agrees or not, If "jana gana mana" doesnt make one stand still in silence, they simply deserve no respect.

Sandhya Sriram said...

on 26th morning, i switched on the TV and told Samarth with Childlike enthusiasm that "wow, now we can watch the parade" and he gave a cold response that he doesnt indulge in such boring activities and switched off the TV. was a bit of a shock but then i realised, well he is too small. and we are also to blame. maybe, the entertainment overload and maybe our lack of patriotism and all such kind of stuff was running in my mind thru Saturday. but then, when India lost the cricket match on Sunday and i told him, "oh this time we lost, he was so sad. he said, "I am very sad that MY COUNTRY lost". Patriotism exists. maybe, how it gets triggered is evolving. and maybe, next year, he will watch the parade with me :-)

Ramesh said...

@Vincy - Oh yes - watching it live is an altogether special experience. Even the Chennai parade I believe is very nice

@Gils - So true. If the jana gana mana doesn't make your heart beat faster, there's something very wrong

@Sandhya - Yes, there are many forms of patriotism, but the Republic Day parade is mote than just patriotism. Its about values we should hold very dear. I watched the 60th anniversary parade in China (only on TV - this being China, going there live is banned) and even that was very special.

Reflections said...

I love watching the parade tooo...and u r so right abt the camera being focused on the dignitaries rather than the parade;-/. Still when I see the men stiffly marching & saluting to the signal & the beat of the drums, tears sting the eyes...silly I knw;-P

Reflections said...

A friend of mine goes for the parade on RSS grounds every year....will[going to give it damned good try] definitely get her to take me atleast once ;-D

Vishal said...

Oh I really don't mind missing it when you offer such wonderful detailed account of the event. I could not have missed this wonderful narration!

Part of the event that remains always close to my heart is the flag hoisting and PVC along with Amar Jawan Jyothi. So nostalgic!

Ramesh said...

@Reflections - Not silly at all. It has to happen to any person with a heart !

@Vishal - Yes, those are very special moments. Being a Delhiite, it must have an even more special meaning.

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