Sunday, 3 October 2010
And what a privilege it was to be there - Delhi Commonwealth Games
As celebrations go, the atmosphere was delightful, verging on delirious. Over almost three humid hours in the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium a Commonwealth Games that at several points over the past two years had looked perilously close to being stillborn finally sprang to kicking, caterwauling life. There was pomp, there was partying, there was national pride by the bucketful. Flags fluttered. Horns were honked, tablas tapped. A 100m-high tree sprouted into the sky. The infield filled with thousands of sweaty, strangely-suited athletes from Ghana to Guernsey, Scotland to Samoa, wrote the BBC's Tom Fordyce.
If you wanted to be dazzled dizzy by it all, it was all there for you. Bollywood film directors hundreds of miles to the south-west would have watched this spectacular, looked at their own forthcoming epics and suddenly felt rather overshadowed.
Central to Sunday's ceremony was an enormous aerostat or helium balloon, a vast inflatable backdrop to all the light and noise and supposedly the largest of its kind anywhere in the world.
The world is now raving about the 2010 Commonwealth Games which have begun with a spectacular opening ceremony in Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
Athletes from the 71 competing nations joined in a parade that began with 2006 hosts Australia and ended with India.
Prince Charles and Indian president Pratibha Patil announced the Games open, but organising committee chair Suresh Kalmadi was jeered by the crowd.
The build-up to the Games had been blighted by concerns that venues and accommodation may not be completed.
However, the glittering opening ceremony, which charted both the heritage and present-day experience of India and featured about 9,000 performers went smoothly.
In his speech, Kalmadi stated that India was ready to host the Games despite much-publicised problems in the build-up.In his speech, Kalmadi stated that India was ready to host the Games despite much-publicised problems in the build-up.
"There have been delays and many challenges but we have managed to rise above them all," he said.
"Despite the adverse publicity on health, safety, rain and security, all the Commonwealth associations have stood by India as we have put together the biggest Games in Commonwealth history.
"India is ready, ready to host the Commonwealth Games."
Kalmadi emphasised the legacy that will be left by the Games.
It has been estimated that as much as $6bn (£3.8bn) has been spent - 60 times the original estimate when the Games were awarded in 2003 - on infrastructure such as a new airport and metro system.
Prince Charles described the staging of the 19th edition of the Games in India as "particularly fitting" as he spoke on behalf of the Queen.
His message to the crowd arrived as the Queen's baton completed a 112,000-mile relay that began almost a year ago at Buckingham Palace.
A Commonwealth Games that at several points over the past two years had looked perilously close to being stillborn finally sprang to kicking, caterwauling life
In the event Prince Charles declared the Games open, before President Patil finished her speech by saying "let the Games begin" to the accompaniment of fireworks.
A vibrant performance of Jiyo, Utho, Bado, Jeeto, the theme song for the Games, by Bollywood's AR Rahman, who composed the music for Slumdog Millionaire, marked the end of the ceremony.
The sporting action gets under way with the heats of the women's 200m freestyle swimming at 0830 local time on Monday.
Over the course of the following 11 days, 4,300 athletes will compete in 17 sports across 12 venues. Well done India.
I remember living in India in 1980 when India lauched a communication satellite and most of the world condemned you. But that staellite was able to bring telephone communication to the rural poor and many others in India, and improved conditions considerably. Jai Hind !