Haji Shabir Ahmed's children do not let him step out of the house on Republic Day. Neither is he allowed to venture to India Gate to witness marching columns. There are chances of a bomb explosion or trouble erupting, they caution: "At 75 (years) I cannot even run," he says, visibly unhappy about security scoring over nationalism.
Haji Ahmed whose father, Mumtaz Hussain, spent hours getting the horse cart ready for transporting the family to India Gate every year misses the erstwhile festive-spirit ushered by Republic Days: "It was like Id minus the religion" recalls Haji Sahib, who, born and bred in Delhi, runs a footwear store in Ballimaran in the walled city. Those were the days when the marching contingents passed through Fatehpuri: "We just had to get to a rooftop to see the parade but the fun was in going all the way to India Gate" says Haji Ahmed who was a "regular" till the 1980s. The threat perception coupled with fear has played spoiler to what till some years ago was a "national celebration".
Now even patriotism is laced in different strands of divisiveness and communal hatred. Cautious about being explicit about this, Haji Ahmed's eyes say what words would not.
Move to the Gupta household in Khaori Baoli and one finds Pradip, a chemical dealer, holding the Republic Day entry pass as if it were a gallantry award. Add to that the "bonus" by way of a car-parking label, which has made life simpler. This is the third year in a row that the current generation of Guptas will drive upto India Gate to watch the Republic Day parade. Otherwise a TV buff, Pradip Gupta is against demeaning a national event like the Republic Day to the confines of a television screen.
As a schoolboy he is nostalgic about his father sending the entire household in a spin over clean bedsheets. At least half a dozen were needed for the relatives who would spend the night at their house on the eve of Republic Day; an equal number to spread on the charpoys lined along the route of the parade which passed through their area.
Pradip, like his siblings, wore the best clothes: "Sometimes I would get new ones for the occasion," he recalls. But what he really looked forward to was the smell of food and sweetmeats, which were prepared, days in advance: "There was no fast food culture then. I remember sneaking into the kitchen and dipping into the gajar halwa and besan ladoos," says Pradip.
Post Mrs Indira Gandhi, security concerns have robbed the Republic Day of its spirit: "Watching it on TV is like watching any programme. It does not give you goose-pimples," he says. While it was always a thrill to watch the majestic elephants in his younger days, Pradip's favorite still remains the bagpiper band contingent in the parade.
Unlike her mother-in-law, Saraswati Giri, Mohini Giri did not boycott the Republic Day parade in the years that her father-in-law, then President VV Giri was in office. In the absence of a provision for the first lady to drive with the president from the Rashtrapati Bhawan to the podium to where he takes the salute, Saraswati Giri refused to be part of the Republic Day.
But their daughter-in-law Mohini, also former Chairperson National Commission for Women, was a Republic Day enthusiast till security personnel started jostling people around: "You are pushed around and treated badly. It is not worth it," says Giri. Summing up "then and now" Giri says: "The quality of the parade is better but the security is worse. Earlier they were high on inspiration and patriotism, today they are good at technique and finesse," she concludes.
E-mail Kumkum Chadha: kumkum @hindustantimes.com