Marching up memory lane

We strained our eyes to see Chacha Nehru, walking down the Rajpath casually.

Memory, like an old dog, lies where it will, popping up suddenly and taking centrestage demanding our attention. But my memories on January 26 this year were more like a little puppy yapping around senselessly as I watch the 68th Republic Day parade on TV.

As a Delhiite I’d watched this every year, with family, on Kingsway as we used to call it then. Once, with special enclosures allotted to us, we made sure we were there on time to get the best seats. The cold was bitter but we didn’t mind. The excitement of the crowd was most absorbing and we sat huddled in our seats waiting for the show to begin. Our eyes were turned to Vijay Chowk to see the first spectacle.

Suddenly there was a stir, a wave of emotion ran through us all. Someone had appeared! We strained our eyes to see. There was Chacha Nehru, our beloved first prime minister walking down the Rajpath casually with no bodyguards. He stopped to talk to children, and patted the little ones. Nehru was our hero! How we kids loved him! His casual manner must have worried his security men but he never allowed them to come near him; he wanted to mingle with us all. How peaceful life was then!

After he settled down with the VIPs, there was an electric silence again. We sat with bated breath waiting for the President to come, and he did soon after in his grand coach accompanied by his horses and men! What a rousing spectacle that was. The horses so graceful and uniform in colour with their manes and tails trimmed in military style.

And then it began, the grand ceremonial parade showing our military might in all its grandeur! The Army, the Navy and the Air Force showcased the awe-inspiring equipment used in war. The click of their heels, the swing of their arms in precision, like wound-up toy soldiers, even the creases of their trousers were identical as they marched briskly in the cold Delhi winter.

Each contingent had its own band but the Naval band was acknowledged ‘universal’ best. Yes, they are the ones who play Abide with me on the walls of the ramparts of the imposing secretariat  buildings on January 29 when they Beat the Retreat. On that day, as evening falls, the camels outlining the walls are lit up and the band plays on its famed bells. There is a hushed silence in the cold January air, a sacred moment almost!

But it was the local police band which was the most popular among Delhiites. They played in Connaught Place every Sunday at a regular Bandstand and the band master was an old Sardar gentleman loved by all. Now, as they played Saare jahan se achha marching past the President, he swung his silver-tipped baton high into the air where it sparkled in the sun, and caught it smartly as it came down. How we cheered and clapped!

We did see our first President installed and the Last Viceroy leave in 1950, driving past us on Vijay Chowk, but what memories remain are more personal ones, human and thrilling even after so many years.

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