Saturday, June 26, 2010

After a Long Travel Queen’s Baton in India

The sweltering subcontinent heat could not keep the crowds away. People brimming with enthusiasm jostled for space as confused organizers tried to bring some method to madness at the historic Attari-Wagah border on Friday morning when the baton for the XIX Commonwealth Games arrived in India from Pakistan. Almost 5,000 spectators, officials and armed personnel welcomed it for the national sector of the Queen’s Baton Relay.

It was the active participation on the Pakistani side that seemed to be the deal-clincher. The countdown to the handing over of the baton raised the excitement at the venue as the baton was given by the Pakistan Olympic Association president, Syed Arif Hassan, to the Indian Olympic Association head, Suresh Kalmadi. In the backdrop of loud music and dancing by young Pakistanis on the other side, the handover was symbolic of the ‘‘friendship through sports’’ philosophy that the Delhi Games 2010 has been advocating.

The event had turned the border into a venue of joyous celebrations. Spectators welcomed the baton with chants of Chak De India. As the event countdown began, people were entertained with a show of traditional dance forms of Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir and other states. Folk music, vocals and colors added to the celebratory mood of the event.

Pakistan Punjab governor Suleman Tasir accompanied the baton to the Indian border, after it was handed over by Hassan, followed by a symbolic handing over to several dignitaries, including Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) chief Michael Fennel, CGF CEO Mike Hooper, Delhi and Punjab CMs Sheila Dikshit and Prakash Singh Badal and Punjab governor Shivraj Patil. Minister of state for external affairs Preneet Kaur and secretary (sports) Sundhushree Khullar and several other top officials of Punjab government were also present. The baton was thereafter handed to boxing stars Vijender Singh and Mary Kom before being taken on a tour of Amritsar city on the first leg of the national sector of the Relay.

It was, however, the cultural fusion between the Pakistani maestro, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, and the Wadalli Brothers that perhaps best epitomized the ceremony a rousing rendition of music and emotion. Rahat’s popular “Sajda” number, which was followed by the well-known “Mast Kalandar” sung by the Wadalli brothers, left the audience spell-bound.

Dikshit, while congratulating the Organizing Committee (OC) for the successful handover of the baton, reiterated Delhi’s preparedness for the Delhi Games. It was a hope seconded by Fennel, a shot in the arm for the OC which has been at the receiving end of much criticism from the CGF for tardy preparations in the past.

Sharif said: ‘‘This extravaganza (Delhi Games 2010) will not only bring closer the people of the subcontinent but also the participating countries.’’ Kalmadi nodded in appreciation. ‘‘It’s a great day for sports in India. It is because of Pakistan’s efforts that India got the Games and it shows that our relationship with Pakistan will improve if we concentrate on sports ties,’’ he said. Kalmadi reiterated that preparations were on track and all the infrastructure is coming up well in time. ‘‘We are just 100 days away from the Games. Let me tell you that everything is in place, including the infrastructure. Everything is on track,” he said.

The baton will now travel across the country covering a distance of 20,000 km, will pass through the hands of more than 5,000 baton-bearers across 200 cities and thousands of villages before arriving in Delhi for the opening ceremony of the Games on October 3, 2010.