In the end the whole experience was a nightmare. It was smooth sailing in the beginning and they did not stop anyone at the toll booth either: it was open - as our driver had hoped it would be - and we zipped past it. But when we were 7 km from the DefExpo, traffic began to crawl. In the sense, it took us an hour to reach the fourth km to the expo.
We had started at 11.30 am and were able to reach the venue only at 2.30 pm. Once we parked our car and got inside the exhibition venue, we were told by the policemen that the air show was going to start by 3.30. We decided to see the show and then come back to see the exhibits.
The beach was overflowing with spectators who had come all the way to Thiruvidanthai to see the show. Though we could not see the tank manoeuvres from where we stood in the scorching sun, we saw the splendid show by the Sarang team of helicopters.
Once the show got over, the whole crowd headed for the exhibition gates across the road. That was when the mad rush began. The nearest gate was Gate 4 but they closed it and refused to let us in. By then my family got separated and my sister and I were left holding each other’s hands for fear of getting lost in the crowd.
People were pushing and rushing from every side and there was an ambulance seeking way in the crowd. We decided to push our way to the next open gate but saw people walking past the venue of the expo. Thankfully, my phone worked - there were jammers inside the expo - and my husband guided us back to where the rest of the family was. They had somehow managed to convince those manning the gate to let people in.
In the mad rush that we escaped from, there was only one thought on our minds: stampede. After my family reunited, we told each other that this was the one fear that was dominating our thinking.
It was bad enough that the sun was beating down mercilessly in the open beach, there were many who went without water. One man was seen asking for water for his little son from people walking nearby. While we were getting crushed in the crowd, our hearts sank when we saw a group of small children from a school. Heaven knows how they found their way back!
In the end we did not see the exhibits either as the CISF personnel said it was closing time.
Returning home was another tough task as all the vehicles were out on ECR at the same time. A friend who had taken a bus from Tambaram to Thiruvidanthai had a similar experience and said the same thing that everybody in the crowd was saying: bad arrangements.
The daring display by the helicopter team was what we should have been talking about when we reached home. But all we could talk about was the nightmarish experience we had that day.