She yelled at me saying, “I don’t like the entire corporate culture”, this was the response to my subtle investigation of the nature of the parade ceremony I was “invited” to by my friend who works in the South (or maybe the North) block in New Delhi. I was taken aback for a moment but I didn’t state my curiosity to know what provoked the exclamatory and inflammatory remark. I met her in the evening before the “Beating Retreat Ceremony” at the Rajpath. There she offered further explanation which made it worse. She clarified her bad intentions by saying “I don’t know why corporates are anti-nationals.” “What!” I gasped to myself. She called me anti-national and corporate in one go and this is despite the fact that I make sure I mention how much I hate the corporate world in every conversation that I have with anyone and everyone and despite the display of nationalism and love for “Desh ki Dharti” at the drop of a hat.
She prejudiced me in that moment, infected me with the germ. All of a sudden all the people around heading for the parade seemed to me like they belonged to another world with another culture, part of another establishment called “India Inc.” And they knew who I was and looked at me weirdly! “Just because I was not a sarkari babu with the reputation of being lazy, asking for money under the table was being targeted and branded as Anti-national!” I thought to myself, “and these people with all their scams are nationalistic!”
I felt the people in the queue were pushing me harder, the security personnel was handling me more roughly my seat was dirtier and wobblier and pavement that I walked on was shoddier because I was from the world of money sucking profit focused private sector. While she enjoyed the perks of being the government babu and part of the establishment that “serves” the nation.
Of course, I didn’t tell her all that. I was too scared to tell her what I was thinking. I did not want to get her all worked up. I was too glad for the passes she got me. I did not want her to take back her invitation and not take me along. Hundreds of people queued up. We were pushed through the security checks by the crowds who wanted the better seat for a better view.
We went and sat in the second row from the front. Barely anything visible but we knew all that was happening. An eager father gave an enthusiastic commentary to his uninterested son. He mentioned all the elephants, camels, horses, instruments carried, their uniforms, their pace of marching, the music in the background, the drums. He made his little son notice everything making the parade look much rosier than it was. Unlike the little kid, we dint have to put with the super excited father for too long. The private sector attitude to find the best seat in the theater doesn’t go away so soon as she observed. We, then, sat in the stands where the uncles jis were too pissed off to stand and make way for us. She persisted, made her way and had us seated.
The typical hindi film drama of families losing and finding each other followed. Through the one hour ceremony, family in the row behind our's, kept locating members of their family, family of family, friends of family, family of friends lost in the crowd and joining them later. The group kept getting bigger, comments louder and patriotism faded to return at moments when a familiar tune would play. I could have missed my lenses at home and yet seen the complete parade. No matter where you sat people would always describe the proceedings to each other seeking assurances that they are all watching the same thing! Oh look that’s where the bells are ringing! oh look their uniform is blue! oh the camels are lovely covered in orange! oh look they are playing drums now! The obvious was stated like it was a revelation to one, ensuring no one misses a thing. To tell you the truth there was nothing to miss. Well dressed men from armed forces playing as a band and marching, breaking into circles and then coming together again.
As for me, I was determined to enjoy the parade. I had to like it! It was to be proof of my nationalism. In my fervor, I stood up in respect of the retreating armed forces playing the national song. I was politely informed that you must stand only when the anthem plays. I then started clapping to the tune of “Saare jahaan se acha”. It was fairly loud and people around looked at me awkwardly (must have been private sector job again!) so I toned it down. I even pushed a few people to make my way thinking that was the norm of "Nationalism"
Then finally, it was followed with the little waving from the limousine window by Pratibha Patil. I can claim to have seen the President now, although I could not spot her but I was looking in the direction I knew for sure she was in. First the bullet proof enclosure 300 meters away and then in the car 100 meters away. She was right there! So I technically saw her. I even saw a tiger cub once while on a jungle safari exactly this way where I could not spot him but I definitely saw in the direction everybody was looking in.
My dear friend has been referred to as “She” in the entire post because she did not want to be named…yeah she is a real person with beautiful Bengali eyes and voice that heals.