This New Year’s Eve was different. In sharp contrast to the shivering cold in North India during this part of the year, the weather, though slightly warm, was pleasant in Sydney. I have attended a number of New Year celebrations, but joining the sea of humanity on Sydney roads on that eve was altogether a different and unique experience. Hundreds of people were marching on the city roads. They had one mission, to reach a convenient vantage point from where they could view the splendid fire-works at the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge. And for reaching a suitable location, just imagine, they were all walking down. There was no vehicular traffic on the roads to disrupt the movement of the people. I was surprised that there were no V.I.P vehicles with red beacon on the top and the accompanying siren, very much a part of the VIP culture in India.
It was indeed a remarkable experience. After getting down at the local railway station; we followed the crowd in its march towards the landmark. What an amazing organization and management there was! All along the way, at different points, there were help-desks to guide the visitors. When a location was filled, barricades were put up and no more people were allowed to enter that area. And the surging crowd was directed to an alternate vantage point.
Elaborate arrangements had been made for close to 1.5 million people who came to watch the show at the harbour. It is incredible how so many people could be managed without the lathi wielding cops. Police personnel were there, but their presence instilled confidence and discipline in the public. While I was proud being a part of the orderly crowd which kept walking to reach the land mark, my mind kept going back to tragedies back home in India resulting from the incidents of stampede in crowded places . How often we hear about the unruly mob and crowd mismanagement leading to loss of lives in our country.
An exciting pre-show entertainment programme commenced at the Sydney harbour bridge in the evening which culminated with the spectacular mid-night fire-work display. After watching the stunning extravaganza, began the reverse journey which must have been 2-3 kilometers walk on foot to the near-by local railway station. A number of local trains had been pressed into service from the nearby railway stations at mid-night. To prevent overcrowding and stampede-like situation, the crowd was regulated at the entry of the railway station itself. As the people approached the station, they filed themselves in multiple queues which were formed at the entrance of the station. We were standing in our queue in an orderly manner when there was a commotion. There was jostling and pushing. Three rowdy boys were tying to sneak by breaking the queue. Guess what! They were speaking Hindi.
(Published in Hindustan times on 20 Jan 2014)