A small circle had formed at the edge of neatly assembled rows of colour. “Without us the Tricolour won’t be complete!” laughed 11-year-old Nishu Singh, standing in the heart of the circle, dressed in a saffron tracksuit and polished white shoes. Yet, there she was with other girls all dressed in the tricolours banished to look on from afar. “We were too late to find a place to sit so we were asked to step out,” said Megha Tiwari (12) who goes to the same school as Nishu — the RSKV school in Laxmi Nagar’s Sector 4.

While Nishu and Megha resigned themselves to their fate at Thursday’s 67 Independence Day celebrations at Red Fort here, 15-year-old Priyanka Rajkumar looked forlornly towards her schoolmates. “I misplaced my blue hat so I couldn’t participate,” said this student of a Delhi Government school in Kashmere Gate. In front of her, the rows of girls and boys, and the National Cadet Corps applauded, shrieked and waved their handkerchiefs on cue — each time the announcer said something patriotic, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived and later when he asked them to scream “Jai Hind”.

The decision to participate in the I-Day celebrations is left to the students, said Manju Jain, a teacher at a school in Mori Gate. “It really depends on whether the child is willing to wake up early,” she said. “Many are willing, given it’s a joyous occasion and they get ample refreshments.” The string of wrappers and banana peels strewn across the lawns bore testimony.

Even though the celebrations seemed effortless, the children said they had undergone 10 practice sessions since the beginning of the month. “Every morning we would arrive at the venue at 4-45 a.m., rehearse and go back in time to attend classes,” said Meenu Gupta, a teacher from a school in East Delhi’s Gandhi Nagar. Subedar Jai Singh, who trains NCC students from across government schools, said most were eager to participate. “It is always a fresh batch of students each year and they are very happy and enthusiastic about coming to the Red Fort,” he said.

“If I had not come here today, I would have spent the day flying kites and listening to music on my rooftop. Either way, I feel Independence Day should be celebrated,” declared Aksa Parvez.

Hours before the children arrived, a Delhi Police contingent had secured the premises of the Red Fort with multiple barricades and metal detectors. However, at the Red Fort itself the lack of coordination between some layers of security was clearly visible. At 7-30 a.m, Dr. Singh unfurled the National Flag followed by a 21-gun salute which apart from alarming birds in the vicinity, invited shrieks from the school children. Few paces away from him, the Union Ministers were visible on the ramparts of the fort.

With the official function out of the way, saffron, white, green and blue balloons were released into the sky. As the balloons disappeared behind the gloomy clouds, the announcer’s voice echoed: “We have come a long way and there are still miles to cover.”

As if right on cue, heavy raindrops that had stayed away in reverence to India’s Independence Day suddenly started pouring down.

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