All About the Day My Father-in-Law Received the Padma Bhushan
Last week I had a date with my family. It was out of the ordinary. In fact, it was a rather special one. It took place at Rashtrapati Bhavan where my father-in-law R.C. Bhargava , the chairman of Maruti-Suzuki was presented with the Padma Bhushan award.
For someone who’d revolutionised the automobile industry in the country, it was a long time coming, but we count our blessings and awards as and when they come.
So we trooped in, escorted into the grand Durbar Hall already packed with women in their traditional finery and impeccably dressed men. Not sitting in the ‘press’ area was an unfamiliar feeling but I wasn’t complaining.
Durbar Hall is underneath the famous dome of the building – and the same hall where Jawahar Lal Nehru’s new government was sworn in on August 15, 1947.
On April 12 – the day the Padma awards were conferred – had awardees seated on either side of the presidential chair (one which also has a statue of the Buddha from as far back as the 5th century AD overlooking it).
Of the Many Kinds of ‘Stars’
A fidgety Sania Mirza sat between a trail of elderly men in the back row – but my eyes were trained right in front.
And here’s why.
For years now, my husband – even my bosses in the past – have been embarrassed and flabbergasted by my ‘fangirl’ moments (particularly since I’ve worked in a newsroom before) – but I’ve never apologised for these. And right here, right now was Rajinikanth. It was only the all-pervasive realisation of being at Rashtrapati Bhavan that ensured I held on to decorum!
Sania, who had been silently merging into a sea of humanity, literally jumped out of her chair when she saw Priyanka Chopra. She hugged her so tight I decided that even awardees love company.
(Expecting Bollywood-esque over-the-top dressing, I have to admit that Priyanka surprised me with her understated, yet elegant sari.)
Until this event, I’d always rated the fervour of singing the national anthem at an India-Pakistan cricket match as completely unassailable. (Recently, Amitabh Bachchan’s rendition too has become a talking point.) But if there was one thing I realised, it was this: there is nothing quite like standing up for the anthem at Durbar Hall. Many a folk had goosebumps.
The ceremony itself was quick.
Priyanka Chopra did get the longest applause but that’s hardly unprecedented – we’re a glamour-obsessed nation (one reflected in the headlines the next day, too). I was particularly impressed though by the many distinguished and unassuming men and women who richly deserved the recognition they received that morning for silently dedicating their lives to social causes.
There was a smiling Madeline Herman De Blic, an 81-year-old Belgian who’d come to India for a year to work for the poor. 50 years later, she is still here.
83-year-old Simon Oraon, a school dropout was also felicitated. The awardee had learnt early in life that sometimes you don’t need a streamlined education to make a difference. Oraon has been fighting for water conservation and is today popularly known as ‘Jharkhand’s waterman’.
There are many such stories of extraordinary dedication, but sadly our media only shows what sells.
A Fitting Finale
It isn’t everyday that you’re invited to tea at the Rashtrapati Bhavan – so hungry or not, it was something that needed to be done. (For the non-vegetarians, kebabs during the navratras were a delicious icing on the cake.)
I realised how easy it is be swept away by the all-encompassing grandeur. I’d begun to walk down the majestic corridors with their columns inspired by Greek and Roman styles, and had only just started to approach a piano in a corner – when a security guard appeared out of nowhere, asking politely if I was lost.
And I realised that I was.
I couldn’t have enough of the place. Of the moment. Of the history.
As we exited and came to stand at the top of a flight of stairs – overlooking the endless forecourt and gazing at the Jaipur column with a star of India at its head – we knew that all good things must come to an end.
But on a day such as this one, we were humbled, not merely by pride – but also by history.
(Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava is a former journalist who now divides her time between blogging and being a full time mother. Tweet to her @jyotsnamohan)