Can India pull off an opening ceremony like this?

MADHU GOPINATH RAO writes from New York City: Communist China at 1.3 billion people, has a fifth of humanity living within its borders. The Olympics in its capital Beijing that kicked off last night, at 8 minutes past 8 pm on the 8th day of the 8th month of the 8th year of the new millennium, is arguably the most important event in modern Chinese history.

The curtain raiser to this sports gala  had the world amazed and enthralled, but it also had in it an element, that to me, made it so meaningful.

No, I’m not talking of the eclectic yet elegant ’Bird’s Nest’ stadium or its amazing lighting, imagery or  pyrotechnics—all of which showcased eye for detail, diligence and mastery in executing to a plan.

What impressed me the most was the sheer number of people in its acts!

What better way to showcase the most populous nation in the world than to be proud of its numerical might? 15,000 artists enthralled the 91,000 strong packed stadia for 50+ minutes in choreographies that skillfully showcased ancient history and modern might alike.

The amazing mass of humanity choreographing with such precision, fluidity and control talked volumes of the Chinese determination in making a mark on the world; despite the bludgeoning populace. No matter what your disposition to the Chinese, this was their moment and they seized it.

The opening act with 2008 drummers in a  rhythmic drumming that included a countdown to the opening, amid changing lights was a great curtain raiser. The drummers made way to a group of school children who passed the flag to soldiers underlining China’s hope and strength. The unfurling of the Chinese flag and passionate singing of the national anthem, Hu Jintao included, exuded pride of a confident and prepared host.

The next acts paid tributes to ‘The Great Wall’, ‘The Huns’, ‘Buddhism’ among other things. Be it with the number that had people tucked beneath boxes to produce a piston effect or the one that paid tribute to China’s maritime with flowing sailboats and churning seas or the one with traipezing artists around an illuminated globe, it was a pageantry in grace and effortless flow.

Mind you, it involved thousands of people….

The ‘Parade of Nations’ followed and the 204 participating nations were welcomed with warmth by the gracious hosts. Given that 87 of the 204 countries have never won a medal and some like India get one or two, the opening ceremony was a crowning moment for quite a few people participating.

The parade ended to a thunderous entry of China with Yao Ming of NBA fame being the flag bearer. As if to juxtapose a stark contrast to the affluent 7 footer Yao, a 4-year-old earthquake survivor from the recent mishap marched alongside Yao, symbolizing unity and triumph of spirit.

Nothing could have conveyed China’s dichotomy better.

Over the next 17 days, the communist republic will play host to the biggest games ever. People can disapprove the force China used to get to this grand finale. People are furious—rightfully—at China’s blind eye toward human rights and free press.

People have criticized the Chinese handling of Tibetan protesters—and they richly deserve it. But, in the same vein, they do deserve credit, praise and congratulations for pulling this magnificent feat off. Few can deny the effort, preparations and commitment that went into making this such a spectacle of a pageantry that would put a first world nation to shame.

Well done neighbor! Could we dare dream of India playing host one day?

Photograph: courtesy Flickr, 2008 Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony, originally uploaded by k-ideas