Olympic medals winners Sushil Kumar, Vijay Singh and Saina Nehwal during the felicitation function organised by Ministry of Youth and Sports affairs in New Delhi. Mohd Zakir/Hindustan Times
India's sporting heroes were still some time away from the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium, but the cricket ground was already teeming with people - mostly youngsters, apart from a bevy of security personnel. For the students of secondary schools, it was optional; not quite so for the Capital's budding sportspersons.
"We were packed off in six buses and brought here," said one who trains at the Indira Gandhi Stadium.
On paper, it was meant to honour India's Olympic 81-strong contingent - more so the six medallists - as well as the people who worked tirelessly behind the scenes. But clearly, there was more to it - the felicitation ceremony organised by the Sports Authority of India seemed like a thinly-veiled attempt at showcasing the success of the government's much-touted "Come and Play" initiative.
It stopped mattering thereafter. As soon as the sportspersons-turned-ceremony hoppers reached the venue late Thursday afternoon, all hell broke loose. After trying in vain to rein in the rather unruly gathering, the host proceeded to regale the gathering with his inadvertent humour - called Yogeshwar Dutt "Yogendra Dutta", upgraded "Sania" Nehwal's medal to silver and morphed Joydeep Karmakar into an archer. Chuckled the shooter who narrowly missed out on the 50m rifle prone bronze: "Well as long as they do not downgrade our achievements!"
Freudian slips out of the way for the moment, sports minister Ajay Maken declared that 25 medals in eight years' time was a distinct possibility. Then, as the medal winners were given cheques, handed over by young sportspersons who have emerged from - you guessed it - the "Come and Play" scheme, the host returned with an encore - he incremented Gagan Narang's CWG gold tally by one.
Factual inaccuracies aside, many of the invitees were seething with anger at the utter mismanagement of the proceedings. "It's very chaotic," said Wrestling Federation of India president Brij Bhushan Sharan.
"They should have planned it better." Even as the audience struggled to get a clear view of the dais, it was time for more chaos - and for the star performers to head to India Gate in open jeeps. By the time it was over, the eternal soldier had been duly violated.