The old Delhi area was choc-a-block with ostensibly patriotic visitors since early Sunday morning.
Groups of three to four such visitors ‘authorised’ to be present there — among them security personnel, Delhi Government school children and extended families fortunate enough to have procured an official invitation — squatted on the lush Red Fort lawns reminiscing about their country’s original tryst with destiny.
With loud patriotic songs blaring in the background, a 24-year-old Delhi Police Commando — a fresh recruit from Meerut — was leading one such discussion.
“Standing guard here is the biggest achievement of my life. My grandfather was a sepoy in the Royal Army before he became a freedom fighter and now I’m guarding what he had given his life for,” he said swinging from ankle to toe and vice versa, cradling a rusty AK 56 in his arms.
“Thousands of people had to languish in stinking British jails just so that we could breathe the sweet air of freedom. We don’t have anything to bow down to anymore..”
About ten metres away, 11-year-old Aaliyah and Muskan (9) were debating why it was necessary for them to wear skintight costumes given the severely humid weather.
“It’s very hot but my class teacher has asked me not to unzip the costume no matter how much I sweat,” said a visibly hassled Aaliyah dressed in an orange jumpsuit as she wiped her neck with a small, wet, cotton handkerchief.
Minutes later, the PM arrived in an entourage consisting solely of black, expensive SUVs amid a blanket security cover consisting of officers of all ranks and from almost each security agency.
A shapely black iron-gate, countless paramilitary troops, security agency officers and police barricades beyond the Prime Minister, 45-year-old Rajender Gupta was haggling with the officer on duty.
“I got late because my wife Neetu is pregnant and these officers on duty aren’t allowing any rickshaws to enter the area. It took us a lot of time to walk here. Even though I had the pass and my identity card, they didn’t let me in saying that the Prime Minister had reached,” said the brass merchant from Chandni Chowk.
An hour later, approximately 25 National Cadet Corps (NCC) members fainted at a function being presided over by CM Sheila Dikshit at the Ambedkar Stadium. “She spoke for about 40 minutes as she stood below an umbrella and the children stood sweating under the sun. They were shunted away by officials because the media was watching,” said a senior police officer.