38. Celebrating Someone Else’s Independence

Celebrating Someone Else’s Independence: We made it back to Delhi in time for Republic Day, the January 26 celebration of India’s sovereign status and final release from British colonial rule. We can certainly get behind the idea of independence from the British, so we happily marched in lockstep with the million or so Indians who converged on Delhi to watch the nation’s grandest display of national pride – the opening day parade. The parade is about celebrating the country’s accomplishments and diversity, and it vacillates wildly between the incredibly bizarre and the incredibly boring. Picture a live-action float depicting airport security checkpoints, followed by another live-action float depicting Olympic boxing and wrestling matches, followed by a float trumpeting India’s achievements in fiscal accounting, followed by a full-sized marching band on camel back, followed by a group of purple mimes representing something called The Ministry of Social Justice, followed by motorcycle-riding human pyramids. It’s also the perfect excuse to drive a bunch of tanks and giant missiles through the middle of town. And thousands of armed, marching soldiers. You can imagine it, can’t you?

You’ll have to, because the unfortunate part of the whole affair is that cameras are strictly prohibited – hence the tiny web-found photo to the right and the subdued photo of India Gate above, where the procession passes after making its way down the Rajpath (a grand, ceremonial boulevard) in the background. We bought tickets to watch the parade from the center of Rajpath, across from the bulletproof booth holding the president, prime minister and this year’s national guest of honor, Vladimir Putin. Getting to our seats was a gauntlet of frustration. Crushing crowds, confused and misinformed police directing us the wrong way, long unexplained lines that lead to nothing and finally, an insanely overzealous security checkpoint where Amy nearly had to relinquish her “dangerous” underwire bra and resorted to fake crying in order to keep her purse. India!

Still, it feels difficult to describe what a momentous occasion this is for the Indian people. Even during the boring bits, there’s a current of pride and enthusiasm humming through the crowd, best summed by a kid from Calcutta who we met near the end of the parade. After excitedly asking us if we are enjoying India, he says, “All my life I have watched these celebration on the television and now that I am here, it feels as if all of my greatest dreams are coming true.” Seconds later, six fighter jets flew over our heads and he altogether, completely, lost his mind.

 

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