Republic Day camp teaches youth the India lesson

April 1st, 2008 - 10:20 am ICT by admin  

By Azera Rahman
The excited chatter, the many languages uniting to make a cheerful babble and the riot of colour tell the India tale. In the weeks before India celebrates its Republic Day on Jan 26 to mark its emergence as a sovereign republic, thousands of children and youth congregate in the capital New Delhi to ready for the grand parade - and be part of the unique India experience and its syncretic culture. It was the same this year too and about 2,000 teens from the National Cadet Corps gathered in the capital to live together, exchange details of their sometimes very different lives and get to know the very many Indias that make a whole.

Belonging to regions from Kashmir in the north to Kanyakumari in the deep south, from Guwahati in the east to Gandhinagar in the west, they stayed together for about a month in a spirit of camaraderie and competition.

If this was not a representation of a mini India, what is?

The Parade Ground in the Delhi Cantonment area of south Delhi, where the cadets had been put up since Jan 1, was buzzing with life.

Besides full swing preparations for the upcoming Republic Day celebrations - India became a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic on Jan 26, 1950 - the cadets got to know one another and learnt about what has gone into making their country what it is.

A visit to their camping area offered a glimpse of the storehouse of talent. The area outside the NCC auditorium was a collage of culture and colours.

Several groups, dressed in all their finery, colourful attire, dazzling jewellery and make up masking their faces, stood outside, waiting for their turn to perform in the group dance competition.

Adorned in glittering jewellery and a bright yellow salwar-kurta, the loose shirt and pyjamas worn by many women in northern India, with a long scarf covering her head, Rehana from Kashmir looked thrilled as she waited for her group’s turn.

“This is the first time I have come to Delhi thanks to the NCC camp for the Republic Day celebrations and I am loving every bit of it,” she smiled.

“We will be performing a folk dance of Jammu and Kashmir called Radey. I hope we do well!” she said.

Exhausted after their energy filled performance on stage, Manisha Jain of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, and the rest of the group sat at the cafeteria, gorging on noodles and sipping some coffee.

“We were among the first ones to perform. We think we did well, but let’s see how the others do,” she said arranging her golden coloured veil.

Within just a few days, Jain had become great friends with the other ‘directorate’, or region.

“We were given a slam book each yesterday to write down our friends’ addresses , and mine is already half filled! I have made some great friends from the Bihar, West Bengal and the southern directorates.”

To facilitate more interaction, the seating arrangement in the auditorium for all the cultural performances was planned in a way that no two cadets from the same directorate sat together.

Just a few steps away were three music bands rehearsing their songs.

Watching his band members closely as they marched was 15-year-old Puia from Mizoram in the northeast who has visited the capital once before.

“I like everything about Delhi, be it the food or the weather,” he said as he helped one of the girls in his 44-member Mizo music band balance her bagpipe.

In another area, cadets smartly turned out in their crisp brown shirts and trousers, green sweater and cap to march in front of three instructors who sat judging their performance and awarding them points.

“Our schedule is very packed. We wake up at 3.45 a.m., clean our barracks and start our rehearsals at 5. After a two-hour break at noon, we are back at 2 p.m. and don’t go back until 5 in the evening,” said Anshu Pandya of Gujarat, standing in front of his bed in the barrack.

Sounding not a wee bit tired, even after the rigorous rehearsals at the Rajpath, the stately road that winds down the imposing presidential palace to the India Gate monument, Pandya said the beds must be made, the blankets folded, with their clean plate on top and the shoes neatly lined up before leaving their barracks for the day.

“There will be three surprise checks and two announced ones in which seniors will come to check our barracks. Thereafter we will be awarded points which will be later totalled and the best directorate’s barrack declared the winner,” Pandya said.

Marks were also awarded on the basis of how each directorate decorates the front porch of their barrack and, of course, the cleanliness.

So whether you walked along the boys’ or the girls’ barracks, there was always someone sweeping and scrubbing the place.

“This camp instils in us the sense of responsibility. To take care of our belongings, to keep our surroundings clean,” said Sharmila Nair of Kerala.

There was also a recreation room where one can unwind and watch some TV. But for those who would rather do something more constructive, literally, there was the aero and naval modelling room.

Monalisa Mohanty of Orissa sat in a room full of boy cadets, carefully polishing a ship she had carved.

“It’s INS Krishna,” she smiled as she looked up but soon going back to her replica of the Indian navy vessel. In the adjoining room, were rows of aircraft, Mirage 2000, Jaguar, AN-32 and possibly every other aircraft model carved by the cadets.

Sensitising them on various issues and making them actually think along those lines, each of the directorates was also given a subject and makes a collage with colourful marble chips.

So while Gujarat voiced its thoughts against female foeticide, Bihar hailed rural employment and Jammu and Kashmir envisioned India in 2020 with former president A.P.J Abdul Kalam’s smiling face in the heart of the collage.

“This time we have more NCC cadets than last year. There were around 1,800 cadets last year while this time there are nearly 2,000. They truly represent the vibrant nation that India is,” said spokesperson of NCC Col. Sinsinwar.

There was some foreign participation too.

“Kazakhstan, the Maldives, Nepal and Australia are joining in the youth exchange programme besides Singapore, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Bhutan and Russia. The foreign cadets were to arrive Jan 15 and will be here until Jan 30 when all the cadets leave for home,” he added.

None of this behind the scene connect will be seen in the pageant and pomp as India celebrates its might and cultural diversity on Jan 26. But making the one-hour parade the grand spectacle that it is is the labour and laughter of thousands of people - including the NCC children who go back home with many a lesson learnt.

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