Rashtrapati Bhavan had a subdued “At Home” on 15 August, as it too fell under Corona’s shadow. The annual Independence Day party did have some colour as President Ram Nath Kovind invited select “Corona Warriors” and lavished generous praise on their work.

Though the event had its traditional grand style, the drastic cut in the guests list made all the difference. Old-timers recall the long queues the distinguished guests made for the small circular stairs to reach the Rashtrapati Bhavan lawns.

Well-guarded Kota stone pathways between flower beds led the guests to the main square. While the armed forces’ bands played on one end, the President, accompanied by the PM and other dignitaries, sat under an elegant temporary shade.

The ceremony started with the National Anthem. The guests, most of whom were regular invitees, made it a point to reach the lawns before the bands played the anthem. After that, it was searching for and mingling with the high and mighty, whom one knew or wanted to know.

This was not possible this year because of the social distancing norms. In the past, nearly all senior-most serving and retired bureaucrats, top officers from the armed forces, ministers, MPs, diplomats, freedom fighters and TV and print journalists attended the event. Many took their spouses forward to the VIP tent for a closer look at the First Couple.

Elsewhere, guests exchanged greetings with each other, in what could be called the capital’s most dignified exchange of pleasantries. Like President Kovind, there were Presidents in the past too, especially Pranab Mukherjee, who came out of their exclusive enclosures to greet the guests.

While the guests had their brief chats, there were food tables at the end of water channels, calling everyone to hurry up. The tables had snacks representing the culinary traditions of different regions. It was not an easy exercise to find a good place in a queue to collect plates, and one often wondered whether to go east or the west, or just stand in the middle, and wait for the way to clear.

There was no dearth of food, however. Tea and coffee, too, were in plenty. One could have as many items, as a plate would allow, though this often meant that the juicy “gulab jamuns” or “jalebis” could make the spicy “samosas” and “vadas” a bit sugary. The arrangements in the laying out of the snacks seemed to improve each year, and sometimes, appeared to be more lavish than the previous year. One was always careful if it was not time for the second playing of the National Anthem.

This meant the official party was over. Those who started late did certainly go on for some more time. But the grandeur of the occasion demanded everybody to leave slowly.