Monday, January 28, 2008

Defense Ministry Invitation

Rating up there with my morning at the White House Nobel Prize reception, and the Chinese Film Festival at the U.N. Office at Geneva where the unlimited fruit tarts define Anna’s conception of Heaven, tonight we attended a closed ceremony organized by the Indian Ministry of Defense. Sure, that’s normal right? I suppose if your friend’s uncle’s friend sets you up as is typical of both Indian generosity and bureaucracy.

Our driver, tentatively nearing the Presidential palace walls, drove toward a cadre of armed, khaki men. With the flicker of a generic white envelope, a smile, and claim as “Mr. Scott,” no not the Brazilian footballer, but the invitee, we entered the gates.

The end of the Rajpath is not unordinary, and is nor inaccessible on normal days, but this week it resembles an armed fortress due to the National Day holiday. Surrounded by taller-than-average men in khaki poised aside beeping security terminals (ostensibly metal detectors without enforcement), the ceremony for the Ministry was held on the Rajpath opposite the India Gate. The scene reminded me of Latin American airports. Between the “your machine’s broken” argument and the “empty your pockets” demand, the former is a much easier battle to win, a consequence that likely makes your life easier to lose.

“The Beating Retreat” as it is called, includes a live marching performance of the massed bands of the three services at Vijay Chowk. In immaculate order, and adorned with at least one hundred bagpipers, we witnessed a wonderful Indian ceremony obviously directed at the adorned men who had arrived in 1990s stretch Mercedes. We didn’t mind.

At the end of the night, after the men retreated into the night, the camels that had lined silhouetted against the sunsetting sky gently moved down the porticos to a point where their unique form belended into the graying stone of night, all building edges instantly illuminated in a Tivoli moment. It was Disneyland magic slash Copenhagen on the Sub-Continent. Just as the harmony of trumpets and campanile bells was echoing into silence, the lights ignigted an erruption of cheers from the crowd, and we departed.

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