The astounding uniqueness of every Republic Day parade has left the writer bewildered. Read on as he dissects it for you.
Republic Day is a day of significance- a significance there is no way to explain your child before he learns it a day before his grade 8 final exams, much unlike its other national counterparts Independence Day (the name gives it away somewhat) and Gandhi Jayanti (same).
And yet, despite being the perhaps the 30th most awaited holiday in the average Indian’s calendar year, the centerpiece of the day- the R-Day Parade- is a study in contrasts- a contrast between the President’s humble attire and the limousine he arrives in, a contrast between the excitement of the crowd and the commentary on DD, a contrast between the parade being, at the same time, a show strength and a show of tackiness.
No Indian piece of entertainment is complete without the odd show of unintentional comedy. So, as the show of might of the world’s third-largest force- complete with marching bands, vibrant turbans, camels, horses and staffs thrown twenty feet into the air- gives way to the ‘cultural’ part of the parade, this phenomenon, very colorfully witnessed in our films, begins to find considerable abundance.
Traditionally, the states of India are supposed to showcase the diversity of Indian culture by parading tableaux through the Rajpath for the invited dignitaries to watch and marvel at. The ‘watch’ part happens wonderfully thanks to the basic anatomy of the homo sapien body. How, at all, to ‘marvel’ at the remarkable display of stingy budgets and ancient ideas, is a puzzle not even the complex homo sapien mind can solve.
The tableaux on display are at best larger-than-life versions of ‘working’ models most often seen in government school science fairs- significantly in that they are neither ‘working’ nor particularly illustrative.
Babu 1: I guess we should get working on the Republic Day jhanki. First up, the theme. Any significant sarkari decisions in the last year?
Babu 2: We managed to get our salaries increased…
Babu 1: Are nahi, as in, decisions the mantris took.
Babu 2: Netaji’s son bought a bit of land on the…
Babu 1: Yojnas, yojnas.
Babu 2: No, not really.
Babu 1: We have a folk culture in the state, no? We could cover…
Babu 2: Did that last year.
Babu 1: Monuments?
Babu 2: The year before that.
Babu 1: Any birthdays coming up?
Babu 2: There is the old CM’s 100th birthday in a couple of years…
Babu 1: Yes, let’s do that, then.
Babu 2: He was a communist.
Babu 1: All of them were. Nobody cares. Go ahead, I’ll sanction.
The format of the magnificent R-Day jhanki, it seems, was set in stone when the parade was first held for the Queen in ’55. Like every detestable reptile, the tableau has three main parts:
- The Head
- The Body
- The Tail
Usually, a huge replica of, well, a head. This part of the tableau usually leads the stereotyping of the state, by the state, for the state, that follows. For Tamil Nadu, this could be a woman drinking filter coffee (if the budget is about 7.5% higher, the hand might mechanically move up to the face and down every minute), for J&K, Priety Zinta doing the Bumbro dance, for Gujarat, nearly always a lion, for Delhi, a random guy with spiked hair and fake Ray Bans shouting ‘Oye!’
Normally, people doing random stuff while dancing to a generic state song. For Goa, this could feature a couple resting on a hammock and trying to maintain balance, for MP, tourists in typical tourist uniform doing typical tourist things, for West Bengal, a humbly-dressed lady screaming ‘Maoist conspiracy!’ (all while dancing). Punjab has it easy here- it’s always bhangra, bhangra, more bhangra.
Nobody is going to notice, so this part might as well be anything that matches. For all states, it generally features either trees or walls.
Special Mention: The Dancing Guards
The world knows no tableau is complete without rows of proletariat dancing around it in costume, trying to keep up with both the beat of the song and the pace of the vehicle (and failing at both).
Special Mention II: The CPWD Jhanki
These guys won’t even try. It has to be flowers, leaves and more flowers, with special appearances by people exercising, walking, running and talking (to beat). If only they maintained our parks as well as they maintain their one tableau to reuse every year.
Doordarshan, though, does an impeccable job of covering this part of the event, recognizing its abhorrence and forever looking to pan away to the pretty (and unamused) faces of our mantris as their home states come along. The uninspiring commentary further shifts one’s attention from the cultural part of the parade to the fact that the daredevils are to follow.
So even as you compare the R-Day tableaux to the Dussehra jhankis of your local temple and try to make out if, at all, there is a difference, you are invited to wait and see whether the next parade can beat this one’s record of being similar to the previous one.