New Delhi, Jan 26 : The melodious 'Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram' wafted through the air on Saturday as the Delhi tableau, among 21 others, rode past a sea of onlookers and thousands of heads swayed to the uplifting music at the 70th Republic Day Parade on Rajpath -- an event VVIPs, commoners and security personnel unanimously declared to be a 'parade of pride'.
"I grew up admiring their uniform and the immense responsibility it brings. Republic Day is truly the day for which a policeman wears the 'vardi' (uniform) with extra pride," Tej Singh, a Delhi Home Guard, told IANS, smiling proudly and bringing back to mind the 21-gun salute that marked the beginning of the parade an hour earlier.
Currently in his 10th year of service, Singh said that he has only seen the parade thrice, when he was deployed inside one of the enclosures. Posted on duty as early as 3 a.m. on Saturday for the 10 a.m. parade, he said he revelled in the enthusiasm of the audience.
Despite the early morning winter chill, enthusiasts thronged the venue in their thousands for the perfect family day-out -- with even the children bundled up in woollens to beat the cold. Long queues outside each entry gate, tight security arrangements, and closure of roads and nearby Metro stations do not deter the 'Delhiwallahs' and others who flocked to Rajpath for the annual jamboree.
"People start trickling in from 6 a.m., and even before -- such is the excitement," said Ram, an auto rickshaw driver, who couldn't make it to Rajpath but said gleefully: "I saw the full dress rehearsal (on January 23)."
"Pride connects us all", was how a Class 12 student put it.
For the security personnel involved in the event, the parade is a mater of national pride.
"Nothing can go wrong. Even after returning to my room at 12 midnight yesterday, I was back on duty at 4 a.m. It's our national festival and I am proud to serve," a senior police officer told IANS, lauding the innumerable backstage enablers of an event that connects millions of citizens - be it in person or on television.
The images from the parade will remain forever etched in the mind as will the loud cheers that rent the air as the cavalcade of President Ram Nath Kovind and his visiting South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa (the chief guest on the ocassion) and before that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi rolled down Rajpath.
With this year's Republic Day parade themed on Mahatma Gandhi in the 150th year of his birth, there was much more showcased than military might and an impressive flypast of fighter jets. Each of the 22 tableaux - 16 from various Indian states and six from central ministries and departments - provided an episodic slice from the life of the Father of the Nation.
Maharashtra presented the Quit India Movement while Punjab touched the raw nerve of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre a 100 years ago. Retelling India's struggle for independence the tableaux left many teary-eyed reminding them of a bloody battles fought by our forefathers, a common past that binds us all.
Elizabeth, a science educator at a school in south Delhi's Chattarpur, adored the Goa tableau. "It had bits of Christianity, bits of Hinduism and other religions. That's the composite culture we have in India," she told IANS, while enjoying the parade under the bright sun.
Another regular visitor said the parade left her with feelings she could not put into words. "You really have to come here to experience it yourself," she said.
The parade, a grand success as always, came to a close with a sea of people making their way out.
"Please take back your powerbanks, chargers and other items" called out the voices of dutiful police officers who had thoroughly frisked each visitor on the way in.
One thing is for sure: many of the vast multitude would again make their way back next year. Such is the patriotism that the parade stirs.
(Siddhi Jain can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)