Sixty thousand people in the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, millions more huddled around TVs across the city and something like a billion Indians all over the sub-continent willed it to restore faith not just in their games – but much more. With half the ceremony over, the jury was still out. There was nervous shuffling on plastic seats. And then the final artistic segment let rip.
An Indian Railways Journey was represented by the most riotous cavalcade of colour and anarchic life force. Choreographed by Bansi Kaul and with design credits including our own Mark Fisher, a glorious steam locomotive picked out in lights rolled on to the vast stadium floor, trailing behind it iridescent carriages with caricatures of Indian life – bustling policemen in pantomime khaki, a traditional dhow dressed to party and the omni-present tuk-tuks (or ‘Bajaj’ as they are known in India), complete with fireworks.
The stadium came alive with excitement (and some relief) before a mood change saw spiritual India emerge through a sequence dedicated to yoga – its climax, a towering skeleton, full stadium height in neon, forming the sculptural form of the classic yogi. Before gasps subsided, impeccable choreography brought on hundreds of classical dancers and musicians for a segment reflecting thousands of years of Indian culture. Its sheer scale and vibrancy must surely have filled hundreds of millions of TV sets the world over.
A simple but elegant tribute to Gandhi swelled national pride even more. And the inevitability of a Bollywood-style finale did nothing to dampen its effect. A.R Rahman's banging and very contemporary games anthem is surely one of the best. He rounded it off, at the centre of a cast of thousands, with a joyous rendition of 'Jai Ho' (made famous, of course, by Danny Boyle's 'Slumdog Millionaire'), guaranteeing that the Delhi party would continue late into the night.
The small creative group from London 2012's Ceremony team were animated in conversation as we headed back to the airport, learning much from the power of bold, creative cultural expression and brilliant execution to turn the national mood.
Debate about the Delhi games will probably continue until sporting headlines drown it out but, in that stereotype litmus test of a country’s psyche, our taxi driver summed it up: 'They did a good show – we are happy again!'