Republic Day troopers

I saw my friend's sister first, and then the motley crowd of six with two dogs!

It was Republic Day and people were thronging from the four corners of the country in order to participate in the Republic Day Parade. It was an iconic event and national fervour was at its frenetic highest. I happened to be working in Delhi at the time.

Routinely, I was preparing to go to bed on the eve of this grand day when I suddenly heard my name being shouted from the gate. It was 11.30 on a cold night and I wondered at the intrusion at such an hour. Then, I heard my landlady say something and the next minute there was a loud banging at my door.

I hurriedly switched on the staircase light and opened the door cautiously. I saw my friend’s sister first (I had met her twice in Bangalore), her tall figure looming in front of me. Then the motley crowd. The man, obviously her husband, two dishevelled kids — a boy and a girl, and an elderly lady who was shivering despite her shawl and further down the staircase, a pair of scruffy-looking boys holding on to two mutts.

My friend’s sister laughed apologetically and said, “We have come for the Republic Day Parade, aunty. We drove all the way from Bhopal.” She continued, “We lost our way in the dark and had a hard time finding your place. Anyway, we are staying just for one night.” “Please come in,” I mumbled, waking up to the situation. “Why didn’t you inform me, han? Honestly, I’d have warned you my place is way too small to accommodate seven people, not counting the dogs.”

“The boys and the dogs can sleep in the car, aunty,” she said. (I remembered her name was Shanta). Shanta looked at me apprehensively. “We shall leave soon after the parade, aunty?” The old lady tried to remind me of the last time I’d had lunch at their place, but I was distracted by the prospect of accommodating even five people in my partitioned barsaati that I hardly heard her.

“What about dinner?” I asked hesitantly, quickly trying to recollect if there were any leftovers from my minimalist cooking in my mini fridge. “Oh, we ate at a dhaba on the way,” Shanta assured me to my great relief. “We are so tired, we’ve been driving all day in the cold, no Shankar?” said Shanta, trying to include her husband in the conversation.

I accommodated them as best as I could. For myself, I pulled out a charpoy to the terrace and slept under the night sky, rolled up in my heavy duty razai.

Morning and no sign of my guests stirring. I woke up Shanta and asked, “You were going to the parade, no?” She stretched and gave a big yawn. “Oh, it’s already eight o’clock, is it? My god, too late for anything like going to the parade now. Ugh! We have all overslept and that’s a fact. What about you, aunty? Going to India Gate?”
“No,” I replied emphatically. ‘Then we better drop the idea too,’ she said and pulled the blanket over her head.

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