in olive green took up their designated spots. Standing in proximity but ensuring that their identities stayed intact, men from the Rajputana Rifles and Dogra Regiment lined up in two rows. Ensconced between them were two jawans from Vijay’s regiment. Their elaborate headgear fluttering merrily in early morning breeze, the two held up a ceremonial baton, from which hung six freshly-beaded rose garlands.
Airport goes 'green'
Order extended right up to the gate with Vijay's comrades from 16 Dogra lining up on both sides of the exit with placards.
The odd typos did not matter, the caption 'Vijay Kumar --- A Gift To The Nation' summed up the sentiments of the men, gathered since dawn, to welcome a comrade, one who was bringing home a piece of Olympic history, of a silvery hue.
The 6.30 am deadline had long passed, Vijay's family had been warmly received and stationed at a vantage point, the regimental band and beat of dhols were taking turns to whip up a tempo, yet the wait refused to end.
As expectancy grew, the crowd got fidgety, and the first sight of the champion pushed sanity to the background. Amid the blinding flash of cameras, the crowd surged ahead, unmindful of the senseless jostling, each eager to gain proximity to this son of the soil.
Showered by petals and weighed down by the garlands heaped on the neck, it was some time before Vijay, his family in tow, could emerge from the sea of humanity.
Once in the clear, the weary figure, sleep sitting heavy on the eyelids, mounted an open jeep. The silver in one hand, and the other waving to admirers, the stubbled face maintained a faint smile throughout.
Once away from the hullabaloo, Vijay admitted to the feeling slowly sinking in.
"The endeavour was to perform well and I gave it my 100 per cent. The magnitude of the reception and presence of so many senior officers now makes me feel that the achievement is substantial."
Asked if his exploit would be an inspiration for youngsters, Vijay deflected the query.
"A shooter's career span is short, and as sportspersons, our task is to perform. It is up to the government to take care of the other bit."
The high-pressure final and toil in the buildup to the London Games have taken a toll on the body and mind. "The plan is to take it easy for a month or so. After that, it will be back to work," he said.