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Maratha Light Infantry set to thrill French public

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GETTING READY: French paratroopers hold up the Tricolour during rehearsals for the French National Day parade. —
GETTING READY: French paratroopers hold up the Tricolour during rehearsals for the French National Day parade. —

Vaiju Naravane

Manmohan Singh will be the chief guest at the National Day celebrations on July 14

Paris: It is 5 a.m. on a Sunday and Paris is asleep. Scudding clouds darken the pearl grey light and a steady drizzle turns the tarmac a rich black colour.

From near the plastic-sheathed presidential tribune at the Place de la Concord, the formidable length and breadth of the Champs Elysées, cordoned off and astoundingly empty, stretches out to meet the Arc de Triomphe, Napoleon’s victory arch.

Suddenly, the world’s largest, and many believe the most beautiful, avenue comes alive with martial music blaring from loudspeakers hidden in the canopy of trees. From a distance they look like steadily marching toy soldiers and then, closer up, their uniforms take shape, the red pompoms of the Maratha Light Infantry barely bobbing to the beat of the Bhopal March. Ninety-three soldiers, perfectly erect and in step, wheeling to the right as they approach the presidential tribune, closely followed by a 31-member band.

Gracious hosts

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be chief guest at the French National Day celebrations on July 14, and 400 Indian armed services personnel from the three wings will kick off this year’s parade. The Maratha Light Infantry will lead followed by naval and air force units accompanied by their own bands.

Brigadier Vinod Chand, who is coordinating the ceremonial event, says the French have been gracious hosts. “They sent two special planes to bring the troops across. They have gone to great trouble to organise Indian food for our men and have extended every facility. We had very little notice and the troops were mustered just a month ago with practice beginning on 22nd June. Unlike for the Republic Day parade, where they simply turn their heads and march straight on, they have had to practice wheeling right or left here while looking at the presidential dais. The military governor of Paris was lavish in his praise of our boys who have performed creditably during the practice sessions which are fairly rigorous. They are filmed and they see themselves immediately after in order to correct errors,” he told The Hindu.

Brief visit

The Prime Minister’s visit will be extremely brief — less than 24 hours. He will arrive here on 13th evening and leave the very next afternoon after the parade and a garden party at the Elysee presidential palace. It is likely that President Sarkozy and his guest will take some time off for a private discussion in between.

The colourful costume of the Maratha Light Infantry, with its distinctive red and black headgear, is likely to thrill the French public. Mohamed Iqbal’s legendary “Sare jahan se aacha,” arranged for a military band by Professor A. Lobo, is an unshakeable part of the repertoire.

The Navy will also play the Vikrant, an ode to India’s first and only aircraft carrier, a tune composed by N.M Wise, Director of Music when the ship was inducted into the Indian fleet in the 1960s.

Another favourite is “Haste Lushai” — in praise of the Lushai hills in Mizoram, a quick march composed by Harold Joseph and the untarnishable “Kadam badhaye ja,” another quick march composed by Captain Ram Singh in the 1930s to inspire the freedom fighters of the Indian National Army. The tune is also the Regimental Marchpast of India’s paramilitary forces.

Corrections and Clarifications

The eighth paragraph of "Maratha Light Infantry set to thrill French public"(July 13, 2009) said that the Navy will also play "the Vikrant, an ode toIndia's first and only aircraft carrier .." "INS Vikrant" (formerly "HMSHercules"), and now decommissioned, was India's first aircraft carrier, butit has not been the last as well. India's second carrier is "INS Viraat"(formerly "HMS Hermes"). The third will be the Russian "Admiral Gorshkov",which will enter service as "INS Vikramaditya". India is also building anew "Vikrant" class aircraft carrier ("Indigenous Aircraft Carrier - IAC").It is the first carrier to be built by India, at the Cochin Shipyard, andmay be called "INS Vikrant" as well. An order for a second carrier in thisclass is to be placed and it may be called "INS Vishal".

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