Summer nights at India Gate are always a spectacle. Every day, for months on end, there are people, children, and ice cream carts. Yet, even by its own standards, as Saturday night turned into Sunday morning, India Gate saw an extraordinary few hours.
This was a night where civilians were shooed away, there place taken by hundreds of men in police and paramilitary fatigues. This was a night where yoga mats mattered more than anything else around Rajpath. This was the night before the morning India was to attempt a record strech to create Yoga history.
For over a week, the lawns of India Gate had been devoid of their usual joyous mob. But by midnight, the first signs began to appear that time for rehearsal was over. Things moved quickly with over twenty tow trucks fanning out all across the India Gate circle, appearing from every radial road that branches out from it; their sights set on any car parked along the road. Even on this night, some brave ice-cream vendors had set up their stalls, dodging the police, to sell to the curious few who showed up to see what the fuss was all about. But as the trucks rolled in, the signal was clear. It was time to go.
As the civilian vehicles quickly cleared out of the roads around Rajpath, others replaced them with urgency. Every fifty metres, a white police vehicle stood stationed, others slowly coasting the streets.
Till 2 am, the roads were still open, but no loitering was permitted. Even as vehicles slowed down to look at the unusual sight of the heart of Delhi being made to look like a riot-hit area — with policemen and paramilitary personnel everywhere — they were urgently ushered on their way.
On the footpaths, next to lawns where thousand would perform Yoga on Sunday morning, a host of ambulances — Maruti Omnis, others larger vehicles — soon arrived.
With the first rays of the new rising sun now closer, the security ring around Rajpath looked much bigger. The traffic police was out in force, their white uniforms an unusual sight in the night.
At 1, barricades were put up in the immediate India Gate traffic circle. In an hour, that had grown to every radial road that led to it. By 3 am, all of New Delhi was swarming with police officers standing upright, their chairs behind them, casting a discerning eye of every single vehicle that passed.
Amongst themselves, they asked if the security cover was akin to the preparations preceding the Republic Day. By 4 am, New Delhi’s roads were filled with buses, oddly the only vehicles that didn’t seem unacceptable. Some were blue police buses, others belonged to private contractors, most were the green low floor DTC. They all, though, had one thing in common – signages that said “International Yoga Day”.
Alighting from these buses were men and women that were all dressed the same way. They wore dark blue track pants, and a white t-shirt with badges around their shoulders. They came from everywhere, walking in lines, well rehearsed about the route they were meant to take.
As the yellow halogen lights of New Delhi’s roads gave way to the blue of early Sunday morning, they walked to the lawns of the India Gate. A sea of humanity, assembled to make history, awaited them.