Ahmedabad: There was a pleasant surprise at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport here early on Sunday morning.
No, there was no ‘Sunday morning up with a lark …’, but Kenny G’s best-selling album Breathless was being played on the airport’s public address system as one waited at the baggage carousel.
About an hour-and-a-half before, barely minutes before the Lucknow-Ahmedabad Indigo flight was about to begin its full-throttle run for take-off, one last look at Twitter before setting the phone on aeroplane mode had revealed this mini shocker of a video meme on United States President Donald Trump’s visit to India.
And then upon landing in Ahmedabad, KennyG was found ‘doing’ the honours with some morning raagaa of sorts! Not bad, one thought.
So does this airport in Ahmedabad usually dish out such tasteful saxophone fare for its passengers or is it because there are a whole lot of foreign guests who have started arriving in the city just ahead of the visit by United States President Donald Trump and US First Lady Melania Trump on Monday?
A wry smile was all that this question could elicit from the Central Industrial Security Force personnel who was stationed at the arrivals hall exit.
Minutes later, during the Uber ride to the Marriott in Usmanpura area, huge cutouts of Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi caught one’s attention.
They were just huge in every sense of the term, but very meticulously done, near-perfect replicas of the two leaders of the world’s largest democracies.
There were innumerable hoardings placed at barely 50-metre intervals on either side of the road from the airport leading towards the newly-built 110,000-seater Motera cricket stadium, where Trump is scheduled to be accorded a massive public reception on Monday.
Makeshift podiums were still being hurriedly erected on either side of the road where people in large numbers are expected to be present to greet the US president during what is being billed as a ‘road show’ stretching for 22 kilometres.
But surprisingly, later in the day, as one ventured towards the Polytechnic Ground in Ambavadi, where media accreditation passes were scheduled to be distributed, one could hardly feel that such a high-profile visitor was about to descend upon the city in less than 24 hours.
No cutouts, no wall graffiti hailing the ‘two democracies’, no mention of ‘Indo-US friendship’, and the giant hoardings bearing gleaming images of the two leaders were few and far between. What a contrast, one thought! Is this the same city that will host the US first couple?
“Life goes on, Sir. All the hype and hoopla will be along that stretch from the airport to Motera Stadium tomorrow. For us drivers of app cabs, that’s the road not to be taken for sure tomorrow. Rest, it should all be normal … just another day,” the nonchalance in the voice of Damodar (who preferred to identify himself with only his first name), the app cab driver hailing from Uttar Pradesh, was unmistakable and even surprising.
In a nutshell, that’s Ahmedabad just the day before the world’s most powerful man on earth comes calling.
The city bears a very clean look, every possible arrangement has been made to ensure a smooth flow of traffic even in the arterial roads.
Around 20,000 personnel from Gujarat’s armed police force will be deployed all over the city, apart from Special Protection Group, National Security Guard commandos, personnel from Central intelligence and security agencies, and of course the US Secret Service to provide a foolproof safety net around the US president and the first lady.
Ahmedabad has hosted many heads of states in the past, but this is the first instance an American president will be setting foot. But apart from the massive security apparatus that has been put in place and the paraphernalia along the road from the airport to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium (Motera Stadium), there is hardly a buzz.
And perhaps that is quite in the fitness of things for a city and a state that has always taken pride in its business-as-usual approach to life, come what may.
The flip-flop over whether Trump would visit Sabarmati Ashram continued on Sunday as well. An official with the Press Information Bureau in Ahmedabad told Gulf News that Sabarmati had indeed been scrapped from the itinerary.
Chief Minister Vijay Rupani tried to steer clear of the guessing game, saying that a final decision would rest with the White House. However, later in the day, a section within the ashram fuelled further speculation, saying Mahatma Gandhi’s former abode by the Sabarmati River was being spruced up for the VVIP guests.
Be that as it may, there will most probably be a capacity crowd at Motera Stadium tomorrow and people in their thousands in all probability will line up on either side of the road from the airport to Motera to greet the US president and first lady. But make no mistake, there will hardly be a carnivalesque element on the streets of Ahmedabad on Tuesday.
Kenny G anyone, for an after-party?