Listening to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's touching 'Mann Ki Baat' on how he was overcome with emotions when he was invited to the White House by President Barack Obama last September after having gazed at it from the other side of the iron fence when he visited America in the 80s, something stirred in me – a connect.
The location and context were different but the emotions were the same, when I got to witness the Republic Day parade this year from the 'Prime Minister's Box'.
As someone who lived all her life in Thiruvananthapuram, the Republic Day parade in Delhi was always something that was on TV. It did invigorate emotions in me and I lived with a hope that someday I will get to witness the grandeur of the Indian State as it moved down the Rajpath.
This January 26, that hope descended to come within grasp; to become a reality, when I was among the chosen few who got to be there as a special invitee of the Government of India.
Like it would be for most others my age, my joy knew no bounds when I got an invitation letter from the Ministry of Human Resource Development to witness the Republic Day parade from the Prime Minister’s Box.
The rare honour was bestowed on me for my meritorious performance in the CBSE Class 12 Board Exams 2014. I made my school - Kendriya Vidyalaya, Pnagode, Thiruvananthapuram – proud by emerging as a topper.
Born to a engineer father – scientist with ISRO – and being sister to an aspiring engineer brother – he is pursuing MS from IIT Madras - and a mother, though not an engineer, with steely nerves, engineering was the obvious career choice for me.
I went on to join the National Institute of Technology (NIT), Kozhikode to pursue Computer Science and Engineering.
Coming back to the Republic Day honour, I later came to know that I was one among the 100 meritorious students – from various streams of education – to have been invited.
I was directed to report at The Janpath Hotel, New Delhi on January 25 as we were supposed to be lodged there during our stay in the national capital.
On arrival, senior officials of the HRD ministry conducted an interactive session where I got a chance to meet the rest of the 99 members of our select group.
It was quite a thrilling experience for all of us, making new friends and getting to know about the diverse culture of the regions each of us came from. It was truly a mini India before my eyes; this meeting was quite informative and enjoyable and I continue to cherish it.
But amid all the fun, the excitement in the group about the next day's event reached a crescendo by the night time.
I went to bed late and hoped to catch a quick nap, but sleep eluded my eyes. It felt like a flash before it was time to wake up for the big day. After a hurried breakfast, a short bus trip and three rounds of rigorous security checks – all by 6 am – we were seated at the PM's box, which was right below the VVIP enclosure.
I soaked in the scene; finally I was there. In front of me lay the Rajpath – the grand avenue which has witnessed many a turning points in India's history - and history was being made this year with Barack Obama becoming the first US president to grace the ceremony as the chief guest.
The air was heavy with tense excitement, ensuring that the bitter cold weather - aggravated by drizzling rain - could not dampen my flying spirit.
Time flew too as the stands began to get filled up. Others invited to witness the grand event from the PM's box also started to trickle in. Senior army officials, foreign dignitaries and others – and my thrill knew no bounds when I spotted cine star Mohan Lal (looking dapper in his territorial army uniform) seated within earshot distance from me.
The thought that me, a young girl starting out in life, got to share space with high-ranking officials filled me with pride.
Soon it was 9:55 am and I saw the convoy of PM Modi coming towards the saluting dais. All black, the cars in the convoy looked impressive. It came to a smooth stop and soon emerged Narendra Modi. Dressed in a black suit with a colourful turban on his head, he very much looked the man India voted for to govern the country for 5 years.
Within seconds, Vice President Hamid Ansari arrived with his wife Salma.
And then, I heard a loud cheer from the crowd seated on my left towards the Rajpath. I too strained my neck to check out the reason, only to realise the crowd had gone rapturous on seeing the 'Beast' and its master – Barack Obama.
Obama's convoy moved quickly towards where PM Modi was waiting to receive him. All eyes got fixed on the rear door of the Cadillac when a Secret Service agent opened it with calculated grace.
There he was, man of the moment – Barack Obama. There was a huge roar by the excited crowd as Obama shook hands with PM Modi. Michelle was there too!
After the impressive arrival of President Pranab Mukherjee along with his horse mounted guards, the entourage started to walk up the stairs towards the VVIP enclosure. All of them passed metres away from where I was seated.
I pinched myself as I wondered was it real or am I in some trance?
All delusionary thoughts left me and my heart was filled with patriotism when the Tricolour was hosted in tune with our National Anthem and the 21 gun salute. I am an Indian and I am proud, I felt.
What I had seen and heard in the media about the Republic Day parade till now then unfolded live in front of me, it brought me immense pleasure. Majestic, colourful, beautiful, elegant, creative, disciplined are a few adjectives that can describe the parade.
What took the cake was the superb performance by the Indian Air Force. The planes flew with precision and carried out some stunning manoeuvres, I don't know about others present there, but I for sure felt that India was in safe hands.
Though the moment of my personal glory has passed but I still get goose bumps thinking of it. My being at the Rajpath that day has forever changed me. It has instilled in me a more powerful patriotic spirit and a desire to achieve more for my country and to take it to greater heights.
Also, the event taught me the real meaning of unity in diversity - the idea called India in its myriad forms. The experience has made me much more sensitive to all those issues that can pose a threat to our country's unity.
May my fears remain unfounded.
MERA BHARAT MAHAAN..JAI HIND