Thursday, January 26, 2006

Republic Day

It's January 26, which means it's Republic Day across India. Here in Delhi, I finally understood why all the roads are so wide and why the design is so imperial - it is designed for pageantry. Boy, does Delhi bring it. As a guy who's seen a few Rose Parades in Portland, has seen the pomp of July 4th in DC, and was even a french voyageur in a Northern Minnesota parade, well there was no comparison.

Where to begin? First, there may well have been a million people on the streets waiting for the parade. I got an invitation via the embassy, and was allotted a seat near the final parade presentation podium. I started walking from my house around 7:45 and finally got to my seat around 9:00, after being misdirected and told to wait in long lines. The parade began at 9:57 am precisely, as announced in the program and over a battery of loudspeakers. ("Officers, synchronize your watches on my count - 10, 9, 54321, Mark.")

I thought there would be some floats and bands. No, no. India is one of those countries where they believe in illustrating just how proud they are to be Hindustani. They paraded the army, navy, air force, and other paramilitary services. Helicopters, planes, missiles, tanks, camels, elephants, dancers, bands, acrobats - the works. The announcer had a great baritone and an even better script - "And now, the army, India's pride - an iron fist wrapped in velvet. When the going gets tough, the tough get going." Actual quote, and indicative of the whole thing.

One of the many highlights for me was seeing actual missiles on the streets. This is the Agni 1, I think, followed hard on by the even longer Agni 2. Its dimensions and firing range were announced in another swell of rapturous commentary. Around this time there was also weapon locating radar, 155mm guns, reconnaissance vehicles, a demining vehicle, an amphibious bridge deployment system, more guns and more missiles. I believe all of these wind their way through much of New Delhi.

Watching the many marching contingents, each with its own band and theme song was great, too. Each contingent had its own very distinctive parade uniform, all of which were in striking colors - reds, bright oranges, greens - and many of which included great head ornaments. The Sikh regiment looked great in their parade/dress turbans. All marched in precise synchronized step, arms swinging in time to their band's beat. Most impressive, though, was that they got the camel corps to march in near lockstep as well.

After the military paraded, the cultural pageant began, starting with the elephants. Seated on top of the elephants (they were not quite in lockstep; harder to do with an elephant I think) were children who had won national awards for bravery. Then there were many floats showing traditional Indian culture and the bright future that is Indian modernity. I wish I had a picture of some of the floats. There were floats showing off the new subway, one with a giant computer mouse and a finger clicking on it (the finger moving up and down was almost creepy), lots of traditional dancers, an homage to bamboo, and my favorite, the float for the Ordnance Factory Board ("the Power that Packs the Punch").

I kept thinking the parade was over, but it kept going. It finally wound up with some flyovers in formation from the Indian Air Force (very loud). Everyone started to leave. But just like the people in the movie theater who know there's something more after the credits, some folks stayed glued to their seats. Sure enough, about 5 minutes later came the motorcycle acrobats. There were guys like this in formation, and there were also people standing on a ladder mounted on their cycle, a fellow reading the paper while riding handless... and backwards. These guys were the real hit and may have gotten the biggest cheers.

Overwhelmed, impressed, and slightly anemic, I lurched away and joined the hordes of people exiting. I walked back to my house, ate my zucchini and tomatoes, and dreamed of pizza. What a day.


At 7:36 PM, Blogger Crawdad said...

P.S. This is fairly obvious, but these are not my pics. I think these are all from 2004. But it's pretty similar. They would not let us bring any cameras, water bottles, cell phones, food, etc. into the seating area. Bummer, but luckily there are these web shots. I think these are all fair use OK, too.

At 1:34 AM, Anonymous shrinkwrap said...

Spectacular parade! Go India! Ya gotta love it!

At 5:33 AM, Blogger sterna said...

That is all terribly cool. I find myself thinking of the cops in the sleepy river town where I grew up, proud as anything to be able to put the police boat on the back of a truck and show it off during the 4th of July parade. As far as I know, that was the sole function of said police boat. Those guys would have given anything to have had elephants.

At 8:02 AM, Blogger Alizarin said...

That is a great description of the day. Intense. Were there Sikhs in the military parade? I always found them impressive. They have a small parade in San Francisco once a year.

At 9:32 AM, Blogger Crawdad said...

Oh yeah, there were large squads of only Sikhs, and then there were Sikhs integrated throughout as well. You know, Delhi is close to Punjab, and there are Sikhs all around. One really doesn't notice it at all after a few days. I've also started to get interested in Sikhism, which is a pretty cool religion. (Not that interested...)

At 2:46 PM, Blogger Crawdad said...

"This is the Agni 1, I think, followed hard on by the even longer Agni 2. Its dimensions and firing range were announced in another swell of rapturous commentary."

I think this is the most phallic thing I've ever written. Not done consciously, but well, there it is.


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