On this day in a life, in 1947. India finally broke away from British rule. Its now 2017, on August 15th and Mayu and I have been invited to a parade to celebrate this Independence. Patiala, where we are staying is not a touristic town, there might be a good chance that I am the only British person attending the event. And due to being in the local newspaper just days before. The local residents would know that there is a ‘britisher’ lurking amongst their streets. I joked in saying that I would be the center point of the parade, and the only reason I had been invited is so local residents could hurl rotten fruit at me. Of course this would never happen but I’m happy it got some laughs.
Our day started early and ended late. Punjub is very humid this time of year, so the earlier they start the cooler it will be. Unfortunately the air was still, and the humidity was high so no matter what. The day was going to be hot. As people were arriving, there were soldiers arranged in blocks in front of the audience. They remained there, ready to do their demonstration, whilst a politician addressed the people. Or maybe they were just keeping a keen eye out, to see if there were any Britishers amongst the crowd. I did my best to lay low. Luckily for me the soldiers had more important things to worry about. By now the heat was pretty strong and periodically we would witness one of them collapse onto the grass. There was a medical team close by that either got them back on their feet or ran them off the field with a stretcher. I was told later that this often happens. And as politicians love to talk, this will certainly be part of future parades. Luckily a good majority remained standing and ended their part by marching around the stadium. The rest of the morning was an entertaining mix of dancing, dare devil motor cycle riding, and martial art performances. All this and not a single piece of fruit thrown, I walked away with a great memory. But this was just the morning, a lot more was in store for us.
We came home and relaxed for a while, enjoyed a sweet ice coffee whilst chatting about travel and other subjects. Birgurvinder our host has really let me exercise my jaw these last few days. His family and his friends are all incredible hosts. Mayu and I routinely get hysterical because of how kind they are towards us, and they often mix in a good dose of humour in whatever we do. Bir told us that he was taking us out for lunch, its really amazing having someone take care of us, organising activities and meetings. I have a lot to learn in regards to being a good host. We were taken to meet some of Bir’s friends, two of which we have already met, Vikram and Harnihal. The restaurant was very posh, situated in the old residence of the Maharajah of Patiala. Now a hotel, and restaurant. We had a really delicious lunch along with some very interesting chats with Harnihal. Filled to the brim, we were told by Bir that Harnihal will take us home, as he had to visit some family.
So off we went. However instead of taking us home he drove outside the city to a shooting range. Harnihal is one of India’s top clay pigeon shooters. With a wealth of knowledge on the sport he explained the history behind it and training involved to become a professional. He hopes to be taking part in the Tokyo Olympic games, in the category of skeet. For those of you unaware of what skeet is, I also had no idea. It is a series of stations arranged in a semi circle, with two clay target throwers to the left and right. After the command ‘pull’ a clay disk will come from a machine to the left and right at random timings and the participant has to shoot both disks. Out of 125 disks you are only allowed to miss 5 to qualify for the following round. Also if that isn’t hard enough the butt of the gun must be lower than your elbow, and only when the disk is launched can you raise the shot gun and take aim. All this in a split second. I’ve never been particularly interested in guns, but seeing him shoot was very impressive. Like that moment in a western, when a famous sharp shooter confirms all those myths and legends by picking off seemingly impossible targets.
I thought there would be a good chance that id spend my whole life without shooting a firearm. I’d had offers in the past but always refused. Especially after seeing someone in Malawi spending a good part of their day hand making two shotgun cartridges, in the hope of hunting a deer. It made me feel that wasting bullets for sport didn’t seem just. But this time I decided I should give it a try. If there is a word for vertigo, but the gun version. I Had a bit of that. The feeling that I might accidentally shoot someone or something. But I guess its no different to having a sharp knife in a busy kitchen. I was a little nervous. But Harnihal was a great couch, explaining how to aim and when to pull the trigger. My first shot was a terrible miss, but it calmed my nerves, to prove to me that a gun wasn’t all that scary. And third time lucky I blew a disk into tiny pieces. Bam! It was a good feeling.
After a few successful explosions, I asked if I could give it a try at the hardest station. As you move closer to the center the angle becomes harder to judge. Harnihal told me I won’t hit it, but I just wanted to understand the difficulty, I didn’t mind missing, it was just for the feeling. He was right, the target came out with so much speed and straight across my line of sight, I had almost no time to react. He shot one more to show me what to expect. And gave me the gun for the last cartridge. Scanning the line of flight I did a few mock runs, anticipating where the disk would be. Last chance. ‘Pull’ a few seconds went by and the disk was released. Bam! And the disk exploded in front of me. Wow what a feeling, the same kick of ecstasy I get when landing a clean skateboarding trick. Certainly an addictive sport, but one I doubt I can afford. Even though, it was an experience I wont forget.
Returning home, I was on a high and full of chatter about my recent shooting excursion. It was now late afternoon coming on early evening and we had an hour to rest, shower and prepare for the evening’s events. Varun another of Bir’s friends was coming to collect us. This was our second day out with Varun and we really enjoy his company. The independence of India co insides with the hindu god Krishna’s birthday. We headed off into the crowded streets of old town Patiala. And what an atmosphere it was! Loud music, free food and an abundance of decoration. People were keen to give gifts of bananas, pears, apples and other indian type sweets that I don’t know the name of. Leaving one particular temple someone insisted I take a spoonful of yellow goo from a large pot. I reluctantly accepted and smiled as it slid down my throat. Brrrr, still not quite sure what I had consumed, a jolly Varun asked me if I liked the butter and sugar mix I had just eaten. Knowing what it was didn’t make me feel much better. But with a few gulps of water the shuddering feeling had gone. The only thing I can relate to the festival is being at a music event in the UK, lots of jolly people, bright lights and loud music. With the added Indian touch of beeping motorbikes, dangerously zig zagging its way through the crowds. And occasionally seeing the people part to let a large wondering cow continue on its way. India is a unique place with a unique atmosphere. Added with the ease of communication, its leaving a real impression on me.
So that’s a day in a life of India. From independence day parades, posh lunches in historic buildings. To an elite sport of clay pigeon shooting. And then right back down to the ground, where the masses celebrate an important day in the Hindu calendar. A real sensory overload, and proof that the world can be a real mixed bag.