16 September 2008

In Guard of Honour

To Ananya Borgohain




Life is so full of surprises. What is is not and what is not is. You never really know what you’ll come across at the next turn, what will pop up from the most unexpected corner…life is like that; that which you think you know can suddenly morph into something totally unfamiliar.

Which is exactly what happened to me and two other friends in the rehearsals for the Ramjas leg of the Youth Commonwealth Games rally.

Commonwealth Games. Splendid athletes. Noble personas. Exalted quarters. The Queen…

Abhimanyu, Ishaan and I, all three of us had found the idea of being Guard of Honour appealing. It had been on the grapevine for some days before it reached us and there was talk of a grand ceremony to welcome the delegates to Ramjas. The College needed volunteers to assist it in this very job, in making this “historical event” all the more historical, in a way, worthy of being historical. The Sports Department had issued an open invitation to all to “come and be part of this grand extravaganza”. After all, things like this don’t happen every other day in North Campus. It really was a historical event.

And we were to be a part of it.

Yes, a part of the grand extravaganza, a part of history. Our names would forever be there in the annals of history as worthy souls who answered the call, who made the making of history possible, who acted as Guards of Honour.

With eternal glory and posterity in our eyes we left the Canteen for the porch. A respectable crowd was already there- it was heartening to see other kindred spirits rising to the need of the hour. Very soon, the Sports Incharge descended into the crowd. A tall, stately figure, a firm, authoritative figure. All became silent as every eye went up expectantly to her. She began.

“You are all here to be part of history. We need volunteers to make this event a success. We need Guards of Honour…”

Guard of Honour. I heard not the rest of her speech, only the Guard of Honour part remains with me for with those very words I was transported by a flight of fancy to an old, bygone world. Would we be given swords and bayonets? What about uniforms? Would we be provided with the same of were we supposed to arrange them on our own? Where in Delhi would such clothing be got for rent? Was the Buckingham Palace prototype alright or would we be required to go further back in time? What about cannons, would they be brought in as well?

All these questions assailed me, vexed me from all sides till I broke off to find the Sports Incharge done with her pep-talk and now giving instructions to her minions. We were told to form a line, a human chain that would stretch across the length of the chosen path. Seeing this as my chance, I took the lead and with my honourable companions in tow, went ahead to be at the head of the line.

We three had almost done that when a few female classmates who were passing by spotted us and stopped in their tracks to comment on what they saw. With a mischievous, almost derogatory, smile, Ananya Borgohain asked us what we were up to. Ishaan explained the reasons for our presence there- the Youth Commonwealth Games Rally, the dire need for volunteers, the glorious event we were to be an integral part of. To all this I haughtily added that we were to be Guards of Honour.

I still remember that instantaneous burst of laughter.

“Humph!” I thought, “What do these Philistines, these wretched barbarians, know of honour! Let ignorant fools laugh- who cares about their incongruous cackle!” Raising my chin an extra inch or so above the usual level, I turned to look in a direction where creatures as hateful as these were not present to offend the sight. That was the end of that encounter.

Meanwhile, while all these aspersions were being cast on our honourable task, more kindred souls joined the group and the line, with I its honourable head, inched forward.

Half an hour later, it was still inching forward- and it wasn’t even halfway through the entire length of the designated road. With the sun glowering on my back and the humid monsoon clime sucking out the life from my frame, my strength started failing. Yet, it was just the flesh which was tired: the mind, the Spirit, was raring to go in pursuit of that exalted end, to be a Guard of Honour…

Another fifteen minutes passed. By this time I was fairly tired. My bag is seldom light and what with the added baggage of the new found Honour, the weight on my shoulders seemed more and more out of the ordinary. I was sweaty, thirsty, hungry and tired- in short, wanted to take a rest, sit down and relax. But this was an honourable errand for which I had voluntarily enlisted myself, to have deserted my honourable post now would have been sheer sacrilege. So what if the other, equally honourable kindred souls had fallen- they were greater fools and to be ridiculed even more than Ms Borgohain and Co. for failing to understand the gravity of the task which they were honour bound to see through. Let others fall, Anubhav Pradhan is an honourable man…

Yes, an honourable man. So honourable that even when the other two suggested, after yet another quarter of an hour had elapsed, that we leave this now fruitless task I at once rallied them to stand and see the whole affair to its logical end. That, gentlemen, was the only honourable thing to do- to honourably see the honourable job to its end.

Hark! What was that! A call from the nether ends of the line! Attention! A call to duty, to arms and to honour! The time had come at last, honour, true honour, was now to be rewarded!

Down the beaten road came the Sports Incharge and her entourage, now jogging, now running. Now was the time. Chin raised high in proud determination, I joined my legs together in attention and positioned my right hand by my side (the left already being behind the back) in readiness for a salute. Her at-first-incomprehensible call to the honourable souls in eager attendance now became audible. The order was to “raise your hands, raise your hands high up in the air”.

I was ready. This was to be the crowning glory of my honourable life. A fitting tribute to not just that which was being honoured but also that which was honourable.

“Raise your hands high up in the air”, came the inexorable cry of the Sports Incharge and as I raised mine in a prefect salute came her final injunction- “Clap!”