The R-Day Walk

So I decided to go for a walk this Republic Day. I guess I just got burnt out setting questions all through the night for an upcoming quiz and after slide number 309, it felt like a circuit just fried within my brain somewhere. I wasn’t getting any sleep and if given a chance, would’ve just ended up in front of the laptop the whole day reading random articles or YouTubing the latest film jukeboxes. As the sun slowly peeped out behind grey clouds, it started raining, and my internet tabs were open with Twitter feeds and NDTV’s live coverage of India’s 66th Republic Day celebrations. I was just a few miles away from the Capital’s centre of attention but I hate the crowds and excessive security, both of which would be in abundant supply on January 26. The buzz started building up: Modi’s colourful headgear, Obama breaking several traditions (no,not the chewing gum bit), the President’s bodyguard putting on their best poker faces atop horses in the rain and the TV news anchor reading about gallantry awards while Doordarshan’s cameras swerved over hyper-excited families waving their hands. A low stomach rumble reminded me to go over to the kitchen. I made buttered toast & topped it with a fried egg. Before wolfing it down, I followed the religious ritual of Instagramming it. IMG_20150126_114702 It was a cool 13°C, and the prospect of getting some fresh air did seem like a good option. A short walk would at least tire me to get some shuteye. Jacket & shoes on, I stepped out. It was around 12:15 pm, I think. Winter made it seem like it was a constant 7:00 am, though. The roads were empty as expected and the shutters were down on almost every shop in the Malviya Nagar market. Delhi is quite a lazy city anyway. I plugged into my earphones and shuffled the playlist. I jogged for a bit until I reached the August Kranti Marg signal. Green Park would be a good milestone to touch and turn back. I didn’t wear my watch. My phone had belted out at least 8 or 9 songs from Kaaviyathalaivan, Haider, Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya & Shamitabh. I could see Jawarharlal Nehru Stadium somewhere in the horizon through the haze. You have to cross a bridge before you get to it. And lovely old railway track passes underneath you on the way. IMG_20150126_135202 Walk further ahead on the bridge and you will notice a road that was once an old airstrip, now used partly as parking space by the city buses. Two white, arching footbridges that were built for the 2010 Commonwealth Games lay symmetrically on either side as cars zipped beneath them. IMG_20150126_135342 A long stretch of the road divider was covered by red-coloured workers’ uniforms put out to dry. It was still as cool as it was when I stepped out of my house. I hadn’t broken a sweat after 7 kms. Nor did I feel hungry or thirsty. Now what? I had reached the stadium. Do I go back? IMG_20150126_140620 A pretty park nearby looked inviting and I jumped in over the low compound wall. However important a day it is in the world’s largest democracy, you can always catch a game of cricket in an arbitrary corner. I felt like joining them and facing a ball or two. But a novel spectacle meant I was better off capturing the action on camera: two serious matches happening on the same patch of ground, their wickets are crisscrossing … but they somehow adjust, waiting for the other to complete a delivery before they proceed with business. IMG_20150126_142245 Walking around, I find that this park was inaugurated by the former J&K governor Jagmohan. Can’t help muttering “That old bastard” under my breath. IMG_20150126_142856 Still 13°, still no sweat and I had reached the fringes of Lutyens’ Delhi. Red-brick compounds with green bamboo fences started springing up. I passed by the residences of several Rajya Sabha MPs, Air Force officers and other babus – probably back home and tired from watching the parade. AR Rahman’s hits from Alaipayuthey were playing between my ears now. I knew the phone battery was close to conking, so I switched the music off and started humming what was left to hear. I wish I had at least one of my two crazy friends who would do this jugalbandi with me anywhere in public. Sujan Singh Park now. I had come to this city as a journalist and didn’t even try to visit it’s most famous resident who passed away last year. The Englishness of the colony was further antiquated by an old, maroon Morris parked at its entrance. A white-bearded man had dozed off on the driver’s seat. There are some things, quite trivial but very exciting, that you wouldn’t see if you were on a vehicle passing by Sujan Singh Park … like its original plaque – a work of fine calligraphy, now finely weathered. Quite surprising that it shows the colony was founded only in 1945. I’d considered it to be much older than that. IMG_20150126_150415 Further down the road and a left turn into Pandara Road – the final frontier before you hit the India Gate circle. It’s nothing short of a walker’s paradise right from the Masjid plant nursery till the last VIP’s house. Perfectly laid pavements, squirrels running around, and old Vespas to boot! IMG_20150126_151522 And finally! I could hear a huge gathering that had stuck around after the grand show circling the cupola behind the India Gate. Behind all these scenes was the faithfully stationed State Media, now getting a break after close to a six-hour schedule. IMG_20150126_152410 It is hard not to feel overwhelmed when you get up close to this monument. IMG_20150126_152918 And when you notice the memories etched in the details. IMG_20150126_153152 All this while crowds cheerfully strike poses, more immersed in clicking selfies. IMG_20150126_153028 I wonder what the guards must be conversing with one another as the eternal flame burns behind them. IMG_20150126_153315 IMG_20150126_153400 For those who hate the show of military might and instead long to see the people’s power, Rajpath has just that to offer. Except, you need to stick around after the main show. IMG_20150126_154751 It’s completely messy though. Who would think that this is where Pranab Mukherjee’s limo and Obama’s beast drove down in the morning? Or several men on bikes performed daredevil stunts to cheering crowds? IMG_20150126_154442 Deserted chairs, leftover chips wrappers … Kwality Walls doing brisk business, competing with Mother Diary. Pani Puri vendors on the side, young boys holding up bunches of wrapped, pink cotton candy and cars honking irritably to get past walkers. Wrong day they chose. For some, the party had just begun. IMG_20150126_154635 While for others, it was understandably over. IMG_20150126_154348 And what’s that they said about the grand seating area for the chief guest again? Oh, wait … IMG_20150126_155338 So the story ends here because my camera battery dunked from five to zero faster than you could say ‘Jai Hind!’. I think my legs had become sore and I heard that low rumble from below again. I remembered from the map I was poring over earlier in the morning, the target I had initially set and what it had come down to now. MtoIG01 10.5 kms. Not bad … this deserved a reward in the kitchens of Khan Market. “Autoooo!”