Like the colour of his clothes, the mat he sat on was orange. His features were obscured by a long, white beard. For hours, his eyes were shut, oblivious to the traffic and people around him. One moment, he sat cross-legged, breathing in deeply; the next, he wrapped his arm around his neck in a manner that seemed to defy the laws of science.
Behind him was Hyderabad House, and in front were the arches of India Gate, readying for a Sunday morning like never before. There was no telling when he had come, or where he was from. Yet, not one policeman asked him to move from one of Delhi’s highest security zones. After all, this weekend belongs to yoga.
About 100 metres away, at one end of Rajpath, close to 50 people bombarded policemen with questions. “What time do we have to come tomorrow? Will we get transport early in the morning?” they asked. Most were not from Delhi. “A politician has brought me from Madhya Pradesh for International Yoga Day. We came because he said it would be a free trip to Delhi for my entire family. I would have never seen this place otherwise,” said Rajan Das, his 10-year-old son clasping his hand. As he spoke to the authorities, his wife and 30 others who accompanied him from Datia clicked photographs of India Gate. With barricades set up on the road, they asked if they could go closer. “This weekend, there is high security. I cannot let you go in,” they were told by security personnel.
As Das looked into the distance at Rashtrapati Bhavan, his son asked him why the road was carpeted and why there were national flags everywhere. “This is only for this weekend,” Das told him. Das pointed to a green carpet covering the road and said, “This is where we will sit and do yoga. This way we don’t have to sit on the road.” His eyes went to the white stalls on each side that said “first aid”, and the black screens showing videos of a practise run. “Arrangements acche hain,” he told his wife.
Half a kilometre away, near Vijay Chowk, where Das was not allowed to go, similar carpets had already been laid out. But these were different — red and orange with ornate patterns. They faced a large, green pavilion, with the white first aid tent considerably bigger. Close to 20 television cameras had already taken their place by Saturday afternoon, and the sound of a technician testing every mike came through the speakers. Everyone carried an ID, two ‘International Yoga Day’ badges peeking out of their pockets. The sense of purpose was clear, and the mood frenetic, with government vehicles constantly on the move. “The pavilion is where the Prime Minister will take his place. You can’t stand here,” said a man in fatigues to someone who had stopped to look.
As evening fell, trucks carrying signages began to appear, and people digging poles into the ground. An official who monitored the placement of one such board said, “Everything has to work like clockwork. When dawn comes, everything has to be perfect.”