Monday

Wagah Border.





I had heard a lot about the retreat ceremony at the Atari-Wagah border, some 28 kms from Amritsar, the only road border crossing between India and Pakistan.

While we did our best to reach before time and just about made it on time, we had not factored in the weekend crowd and just about managed to squeeze into a crowded stand which only had a partial view of the gates. The mood was soon set by a large group of school girls dancing to Hindi film patriotic songs. Some foreigners too jumped in with much dancing and waving of arms and legs. It was a great setting – the evening sunset, a few Indian flags in the crowd, smartly turned out BSF soldiers who looked so tall like the Pathans of Afghanisthan and amidst a lot of patriotic sloganeering – I couldn't help but feel very proud as an Indian, proud as never before.

Be prepared for an assault on the senses. We were surrounded by smelly wet perspiration soaked Mango People who despite the mad mad rush allowed us some room to stand without being felt over! People were on a high here, suddenly it seemed that all standing in the Indian side of the balconies were feeling a tremendous rush of pride and honour in being there watching and participating in the retreat. I was keen to get started on some ‘forever etched in memory kinda shots’ with my camera, but trying to find a comfortable spot, balance myself, not tip over and yet not come in the way of someone else, was a gigantic task! We pushed through the crowd and managed to reach as close we could to the balcony railing. I could see the other side of the border – the Pakistani Rangers in their black Pathani suits and a quiet audience that sat very orderly in the audience galleries on the other side of the border.

The ceremony started with some smart drill and marching by the BSF. The jawans kicking their heels incredibly high and putting on a show of mock face-off with the Pak rangers, much to the delight of the crowd. A white line that came along with the partition in 1947 by the British demarcates the border between India and Pakistan about a yard apart. The soldiers drill with pounding long strides on the grounds as the two iron gates are shut with a final handshake. The ceremony invokes nostalgia among the visitors and offers something that one cannot afford to miss as a short excursion from Amritsar.

After a while I found myself being repulsed by this show as I found it to be too threatening in stance and too combative and confrontationalist! All this fervour was drummed and beaten up by an orchestraor (DJ if you wish) who signaled the crowds to cheer and boo according to his commands! My initial feeling of patriotism gave way to a feeling of sadness, a feeling of being let down. Perhaps because I have always had the highest regard for our army. So when they do these public theatres like at the Wagah border it felt so staged! The entire ceremony became repetitive and farfetched.

I had had enough of the hot humid weather and the milling crowd and the harsh sun and I just wanted to get back to the air conditioned comfort of the hotel room. But there was no way out from the jam packed stands, so we waited some more and finally all of us just decided to make our way despite the milling crowds who magically allowed us a path out, we left before the ceremony was completed. As I walked back to the parking after the ceremony I could not help wondering about what the soldiers would do once the crowds had melted away. Would some of them casually saunter off across the border and share a drink with their counterparts? Or, perhaps share some jokes with each other on the way the crowds behaved today vis a vis the previous weekend. What if the border had actually been drawn a few more kms north. Wouldn’t some of the soldiers guarding the frontier, be probably guarding it from the other side? What choice does an individual have in choosing his Nationality?

14 comments:

Indian Mobile Guru said...

Your pictures capture the sentiment beautifully.

ALLEX said...

hi.... ur description is too vivid. just lived the experience....

Shvetal said...

At times the rhetoric is necessary to fire up passions. While we cannot choose our nationality (just as we cannot choose our parents), we have two choices in front of us: resign to this fact and do nothing, or participate in nation building to whatever extent we can. Often certain rituals seem rhetoric or staged, but they are essential to manifest the core values. It is like someone who is not a Hindu viewing the Karwa Chauth ritual. Is this the only manifestation of the woman's love for her husband? Obviously not! But then these are rituals we do not question, but follow with equal rigour. They do ignite certain passions in our hearts and do help reinforce the values... Perhaps this ritual at the Wagah border may look rhetoric, but it helps reinforce the fact that our borders are safe and there is someone there, a lone soldier who is guarding it so that we can peacefully sleep in that same air conditioned hotel room just a few meters away....

Anon said...

Deer mee,

Nice peice of work about the LINE. I've been on the other side on several occassions witnessing the DRAMA. Similar parade also holds daily on Ferozpur (India)-Ganda Singh Wala near Kasur (Pakistan), though at comparatively low profile.

Good to know that you are as usual in high spirits visiting here and there without fail.

Have a good day,

Aijaz

Anon said...

Nice...:-) always a pleasure reading yr writing...

come over and enjoy things at TR - 20% off on most things including furniture, jewelry and furnishings...
also tell friends family and all....

See you soon,

Nihar

Raj M said...

like any young boy I too, once upon a time, wanted to become a soldier and fight for MY country. However, the big bad commercial world took me into it's vice-like grip and it was here that I also got a chance to see the dirty underbelly of our armed forces. All thoughts of patriotism dramatically changed thereafter. So I can understand what you went thru @ Wagah!

mathatheist said...

It's all geography in the end. We adhere to whichever side we are told we belong to. Conditioning perhaps. In some nations, patriotism is non-negotiable. In India we are mostly not penalised for being rational at times, and can take the opposite view, and still survive.

Cuckoo said...

Wasn't it a great feeling ? I too had difficulty in clicking pictures amidst so much of excited crowd.

See here my account of Wagah border
http://www.cuckooscosmos.com/Travel/2009/02/11/the-retreat-ceremony-at-wagah-border/

and other related posts http://www.cuckooscosmos.com/Travel/category/my-india/wagah-border-my-india/

Do you know Wagah is a village divided in 2 parts... one in India , other in Pak ?

Anonymous said...

Aah! You strike a chord. Forty five years ago I visited Wagah.Not much of a road,parked our car very close to the gates,[small gates}a handful of people. We stood there,chatted with the few on the other side, watched the ceremony.There was a feelig of sadness--WHY WAS THIS LINE DRAWN? The people across looked and talked like us.So much like one country.
Twenty five years ago I went back. A road had appeared,few stands for people to sit and there was a quiet ceremony.The other side appeared distant.
Now wait a minute-- I was back there once again, three years ago.The entire place had transformed. Beautiful tarmaced road,many, many people ,stands to sit on and an unbelievable energy.A riot of colours which seemed even more vibrant as they contrasted sharply against the blacks and greys on the other side.There was a complete Indian feel about the place AND I SOO LOVED IT!No place to sit but I squated on the road for here was a moment I wanted to melt in the crowd and participate from my core.There was no Dj. and we all went estatic.It came from everyone's heart.!!I could not chat with the other side-the line had distanced too far now.

keshi said...

very well written, very evocative. I have never been there but reading your post brings it so alive, I could see everything in my mind:)

very enjoyable posts- sincere compliments.

melinda said...

I munched on kachauris on the 30-minute ride to the Wagah border. They were crisp and spicy and awesome. The shouts of "Hindustan Zindabad" were still ringing in my ears when I returned for the stuffed parathas and the ma-ki-dal at the 1917 Bharawan ka Dhaba near the Town Hall. The mooli paratha is guaranteed to satisfy, but the dal's too buttery. I sampled more of the same at a pokey little shop in Jalianwala Bagh. So yea the Border retreat ceremony and the food were a mighty lethal combine:)

Mee said...

@indianmobileguru- ty:)

@allex- ty:)

@Shvetal -maybe, works for the masses I guess.

@Aijaz- thats what kills me to know the emotions are similar, the languahe is similar, the people sentiments are similar and yet the LINE divides...

@Nihar- will tread the tribal route soooon

@Raj- I still have the highest respect for our armed forces. That day it became a bit dull in its shine:(

@mathaethist - guess I know no other way other than free talking

@Cuckoo- loved reading your posts

@Nimi I so totally understand what you say

@Keshi- ty:)

@mel- food consumes you!:)

vinesh said...

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nkitt said...

This post makes me kinda happy, at least there was some place where you weren't in 'exclusivity' and i was ;) and I really enjoyed every single moment of the highly choreographed performance by our troops, even though i sat just beside the gate, I couldn't get images such as yours. And why just two images, i am sure there were many moments worth capturing.
And also it is all maintained by the BSF and not the army, hence there are chances of ' not meeting the armed forces standards'
I would surely visit attari again, if i ever get a chance.