India puts woes aside to open Games in Bollywood style
The 19th Commonwealth Games opened last night with a spectacular pageant of song, dance and pyrotechnics that should help repair the damage to India's image caused by a calamitous build-up to the sporting festival.
A three-hour collage illustrating India's great diversity and rich culture was delivered almost flawlessly by a cast of thousands with some slick hi-tech wizardry and Bollywood style beneath the world's largest helium balloon.
The preparations for the €4bn "friendly games" had been marred by a series of setbacks in spite of India's ambition of showing off its growing financial clout by hosting its biggest sporting event for nearly three decades.
Organisers hope to put all that behind them over the next 11 days of sporting competition but there were boos yesterday from the crowd for chief games organiser Suresh Kalmadi.
The huge security operation around the stadium was a reminder of the safety concerns that kept some athletes away and there was also a diplomatic compromise over who should open the Games.
Britain's Prince Charles, who was greeted with chants of "India! India!", read out a message from his mother Queen Elizabeth, the head of the Commonwealth, but India's President Pratibha Patil was also given a prominent role.
"We were chanting India! India! because we felt there was some lack of respect for our president," one spectator, Kalpana Anuragi, explained.
Ms Patil then gave her own address, concluding by saying, to huge cheers from the 60,000 crowd in the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, "the Commonwealth Games now really are open, let the Games begin."
The cheers were in stark contrast to the jeers that greeted Mr Kalmadi when he gave his speech.
However, the Pakistan team were given a rousing reception despite the tense relations between the neighbours.
At the heart of the evening was the 80-metre-long helium balloon "aerostat" which was suspended above the arena with lights playing on its surface in intricate patterns.
Beneath it drummers drummed, dancers danced and the athletes emerged from a tunnel with their national flags to begin their march around the arena.
Among the more popular displays was a kitsch presentation of India's distinctive modes of transport, including cycle rickshaws and an overcrowded train.
"That railway item epitomises our country," said VK Sikund, a retired railway worker who was among the spectators.
"We make a lot of confusion, we love the confusion and we muddle through somehow."
Some 4,700 athletes are expected to take part in events in 17 sporting disciplines and compete for 272 gold medals before the Games close on October 14.