Dubai: Ajay Kumar Shahi, a senior quality control engineer in the UAE, had attended the Indian Republic Day celebrations at the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi for 18 years and last year he joined the celebrations at the Indian Consulate in Dubai after moving to Sharjah.
For the past 19 years, he has been taking half-day leave on the day to participate in the celebrations to mark the day the Indian Constitution came into effect on January 26, 1950.
When he shifted to the northern side of the UAE, Ajay had decided to continue attending the Republic Day celebrations at the consulate.
But this time, he was unable to make it because the celebrations were not open to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Indian missions in the UAE livestreamed the 72nd Republic Day celebrations, which were held with only the officials and their families in attendance. Due to COVID restrictions and safety protocols in place, the missions had requested all Indian nationals to join the virtual coverage of the celebrations, which otherwise used to be attended by several community members clad in tricolour and holding the Indian flag
Like several of his fellow compatriots, Ajay also had to watch the celebrations via social media.
“I was very happy to attend the Republic Day celebrations at the Consulate wearing an Indian flag T-shirt last year. This year I didn’t wear the flag, but I still took half day leave and watched the programme on Facebook. We also watched the Republic Day parade in New Delhi on TV as usual,” Ajay told Gulf News on Tuesday.
He said nobody had imagined the world would change like this in just a year. However, he said he was happy about the technological advancement in the current times that help people connect virtually and also attend celebrations via social media.
Indian flags at homes
“We put up a flag on our car and kept another one at home. My wife wore a saree in tricolour. That’s all we could do this year. But, we are happy we could at least watch the flag hoisting ceremony and the cultural programmes on Facebook.”
Like Ajay several other Indians found heightened moments of patriotism while watching the virtual celebrations.
Dr Mahaveer Mehta, chairman and medical director of Dr Mahaveer Mehta Medical Centre in Dubai, also took two hours off from his morning duty to watch the Republic Day celebrations at the consulate.
“It was excellent. I am very pleased with the way everything was organised. The cultural programmes were also great,” he said.
Another expat Ganesh Prasad, a safety manager with a construction company, said his family also attended the virtual ceremony. “My daughters Vaishnavi and Aakanksha Gupta placed an Indian flag in our flat and they also participated in the online celebration in their school,” he said.
While most of the regular attendees of the event at the consulate missed it this time former Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Awardee Girish Pant managed to join the celebration physically.
“I got the opportunity to attend the function this year also because I was with the visiting Indian Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Ramdas Athawale, who was a guest at the event, and he asked me to accompany him,” he said.
Some Indian schools and Indian associations also held virtual celebrations to mark the occasion.
Blood donation, painting exhibition, panipuri championship
Friends of India (FOI) group organised a blood donation camp to mark the Republic Day in association with the Indian Consulate in Dubai. “A total of 98 people donated blood. Out of that 10 people donated platelets also. We are glad to serve the community especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Parantap Mishra, a coordinator of the event.
Funun Arts brought together 30 artists and 60 artworks on one platform for a month-long art exhibition that began on Monday evening.
“The exhibition at Novotel Hotel in Dubai World Trade Centre is titled ‘Rang’, which means colour, as India is the land of different colours and diversity of culture. It shows our love and gratitude to the motherland India on the occasion of Republic Day. All participants are Indians residing in the UAE and will be showcasing their artwork based on the same theme,” said Shiba Khan, who founded Funun Arts along with her sister Farah.
Consul General of India in Dubai Dr Aman Puri and Emirati collector Suhail Mohmmed Al Zarooni, who is also a Guinness World Record holder, were the chief guests at the inaugural ceremony.
Reema Mahajan, founder of Indian Women in Dubai (IWD), an online group for expatriate women in the emirate, said a small group of IWD members also took part in the ‘Bol Gappa Pe Golgappa’ championship which the group organised in tie-up with the Bollywood themed restaurant in Karama.
Any customer who can eat the maximum number of ‘golgappa’ or ‘panipuri,’ a popular snack in India, in one minute will be chosen as the winner.
“We refrained from going in big numbers due to the COVID situation. Our members took part in the contest in different batches to follow the safety protocol,” said Mahajan.