The pomp of the parade and the echo of the 21 gun salute

bvrao

BV Rao | January 26, 2011



At 0655 Dubai time on Wednesday January 26, I  switched on the television.
There was the pomp and the ceremony, the garlands and the splendour in the grass. India's narcissistic annual salute to itself  set to music once again but as the Republic Day parade unravelled itself across the Rajpath tarmac in New Delhi and the commentators spoke their platitudes and served up sun-kissed superlatives, there was another unravelling occurring beneath the spit and polish surface.
Nothing gives it away more dramatically than the swathe of bulletproof glass that separates the VIP enclosure from the rest. That, and the rising damp of corruption in high places. Sixty years plus years down the road and into its first celebration of the century’s second decade, this nation of grand contradictions promises so much but is that promise only to the few at the cost of the many?
From the outside looking in as one of 25 million NRIs damned by their distance and bookended by unctuous political solicitation and public loathing we make sad jam for the sandwich. So anything we say is robbed of its relevance because we are not seen as relevant. Easier then to be brutal.
When you view the power and the glory on display there is also an uncomfortable sense of imperialism about it all, because it is in profound counterpart to the 170,000 homeless braving a bone chilling winter in the capital, a stark contrast against the clip clop of the horses bringing the president to her podium. These shows have their ceremonial splash but do they address the nation’s social and economic issues, the slow grind of our justice, the promise to obliterate not mankind but its common enemies, poverty, disease, illiteracy and communalism?
Are our women safe, are the children going to school? Is there water for all to slake the national thirst? Food to eat or do millions trip on the rising price line while the servants of the people, elected to great power, live in cosseted luxury. Our politicians are venal, our bureaucrats are worse, our leaders make promises like they eat, with a lot of noise and little finesse. All too often celebrations by proxy are gratuitous and serve as cosmetic surgery on the harsh realities that confront our tomorrows. We seek the knowledge of the past but we cannot keep living in it.
Perhaps my impatience has an intemperate side to it, one fed by the hypocrisy of it all. The ones who make the most amplified sounds  and patronise the public with exhortations and shrill hurrahs are the very people who have corrupted that power and  glory, robbed the national till, torn the values that were handed down from generation to generation, soiled our togetherness, created divisiveness through religion and caste and creed, exploited the land and brought us to a pass far short of where we should have been.
To me January 26 is a time to reflect, not on the successes alone and there are plenty of those, but on the need to make good the promises that Nehru first pledged when he asked this nation to keep its tryst with destiny.
I  watch and I  get emotional and the music  stirs the soul. The strength reflected in the soldier marching proudly down the parade route, the hope in the eyes of the schoolchildren, India's tomorrow, the grandeur of the citizens through the state by state tableaux rolling down the mall, depicting life and achievements in all their richness, the recognition of heroism and profiles in courage, a testimony to those who went beyond the call of duty, the genius that is India, the home, the family, the traditions of hospitality and largesse, the momentary freezing out of the ugly politician as a nation identifies its inner core...I will salute that and more but behind the wave of high emotion lurks the shark…will another year go by caught in the web of deceit that seems to trap each 12 month cycle and rob us of our fundamental right to win and be counted to the last man, woman and child?
That is the echo of the 21 gun salute, Madam President.

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