New Delhi: At the investiture ceremony of Padma Bhushan, the country's third highest civilian honour, the President set a precedent of sorts.
At the function held in the national capital for awarding the recipients, President Pratibha Tai Patil took a break from protocol and made a gesture that went down extremely well with those attending the civil investiture at Rashtrapati Bhawan.
President Pratibha Patil, in deference to their age and infirmity of six recipients, walked down from the dais to honour them.
PRESIDENTIAL HONOUR: The Padma Awards are recognition of service to countrymen, nation and society.
For four of the awardees, Patil walked the full 10 steps to the spot from where the recipients walk up to the dais. For the other two, she met them halfway down.
"Now, that's a true sign of humility. For the awardees, it becomes a double honour," remarked an official who has attended countless investitures.
The first time this happened was when 88-year-old G S Randhawa, a former horticulture director of the Central Public Works Department and who has played a major role in the greening of the capital, was called to receive his Padma Bhushan, the country's third highest civilian honour.
On the second occasion, it was for 87-year-old freedom fighter Naganath Ramchandra Nayakwadi, who was awarded the Padma Bhushan for his work in the social and educational sectors.
On the third occasion, it was for 91-year-old R Mehta, an internationally known musicologist and academician, who too was awarded the Padma Bhushan.
On the fourth occasion, it was for 75-year-old Bal Swarup Chaubey, who retired as dean of Nagpur's Government Medical College and was awarded the Padma Shri, the country's fourth highest civilian award.
For all of them, Patil walked the last mile, while in the case of Padma Shri awardees Hridayanath Mangeshkar and P.R. Krishna Kumar, the president met them halfway.
Mangeshkar, 72, the younger brother of singing legend Lata Mangeshkar, was cited for his work as a music director, composer and singer, while Krishna Kumar, 57, was cited for his efforts to promote Ayurveda.
The recipients of the 66 awards were four Padma Vibhushans (the country's second highest civilian award), 14 Padma Bhushans and 48 Padma Shris. The list was an eclectic mix of academics, doctors, scientists, film stars, social workers and sports persons, to name just a few.
Not surprisingly, some of the loudest cheers were reserved for ace shooter Abhinav Bindra and billiards and snooker star Pankaj Advani as they walked up to receive the Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri respectively.
However, two recipients who were sorely missed in this category were Indian cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and the sultan of spin Harbhajan Singh, who are in South Africa for the second edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL).
And, in a clear indication that the vamp of yesteryears' films Helen still rules many heart, the bespectacled star almost brought the roof down as she walked up to receive her Padma Shri.
Helen responded with a gesture of her own. While all other recipients turned right after receiving their awards to exit the dais, Helen diagonally walked backwards before turning and walking.
The idea was not to show her back to the president, another gesture that went down well.