Spice of life: When Bhai stood smiling before the President
“I’m not going to be nervous when they call me up,” said Shubhankar Sharma on the eve of the Arjuna Awards ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan earlier this week. “I’ll just walk up and be like, ‘Wassup, Mr President? Everybody’s stomachs doing okay?’”
That’s the up-and-coming world renowned golfer you know. When Bhai found out a week ago that he’d been selected for a national sporting honour, he received the news with bemused gratitude. I ransacked Google and decided to lecture him one afternoon, “It began in 1961 and it’s among the top national citizen recognitions of India. (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi ji may be there!” But to my dismay, he wasn’t.
I was planning to charm Modi ji with anecdotes about classmates calling me the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan reporter at school.
Two hours before the ceremony, Bhai looked like a schoolboy in a buzz cut, maroon tie-blazer, white shirt and fitted grey pants. I couldn’t stop smiling because it’d been years since he’d been in something resembling a school uniform. He walked up to me as our parents and I stood waiting in the lobby.
“Throw this away for me, please?” And now I had a ball of bubble gum stuck in my palm. Great.
All humour gently faded away when our car rolled through the towering Rashtrapati Bhavan gates. We were taken in awe. Papa was sitting in the front seat in military olive green and a ceremonial medallion. Six years had passed since he gave up his uniform. He wanted to raise and shelter his 16-year-old son, who was beginning professional life. Papa softly said, “Baccha, thank you for giving me the chance to wear this again.”
Walking up to the Bhavan meant ascending a Cinderella level of steps, as we faced a domed palace rising to the heavens. Buddha stood in soulful, statued silence behind the ruby chair of the President. Satyamev Jayate was inscribed into the main entrance gates. Truth triumphs.
There were white marble corridors that arched into roofs inside, and large embroidered lamp orbs hung from those meeting points. Everything was huge. There was a sweet, perhaps jasmine scent in the air that was indescribably Indian.
It was an hour before the President arrived. A surprise entry for the Khel Ratna sent camera flashes dancing around the room. Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma had suddenly appeared. Suited and sharp, genteel and beautiful — they looked like fine-brushed super humans, like blobs of perfection among everyday all-shaped humanity.
“He (Kohli) was sitting two feet away. He clapped for each person,” Bhai said later. In the car, mama would speak to my aunt about Anushka like she was just another daughter from our hometown, Jammu.
“She was looking sweet. Her earrings were so big, and she looked proud.” There was this daydream in my head of stepping up and congratulating them for being bonded for life. It was amazing.
When you became famous, you suddenly belonged to everybody.
I felt my family’s attention heighten and we grew still as Bhai’s name was finally announced. The rest of the world dimmed, in face of the feeling within me that was growing powerful enough to overwhelm the moment. I was hit with a pure and fluttery, rippling happy feeling. Mama and papa’s eyes shone slightly.
Bhai bowed before President Ram Nath Kovind like I’ve only seen him do before altars in temples. He walked up on stage and accepted his Arjuna Award with a smile.
(The writer is a 16-year-old Panchkula-based student and blogs on liftyou.in)