By Renu Mehta
WAGAH BORDER: Amidst the screams and shouts of patriotism, Amritsar resident Gautam Arora, along with his sister and other relatives, sits on the assigned seats watching the spectacle of fabricated contempt and disdain carried out between two neighbouring countries as they carry out Bollywood-type theatrics at the Wagah border every evening.
The daily ceremony begins just before the sun sets with a parade as soldiers from both sides march towards the iron gates separating the two countries. A narrow stretch of no man’s land sits between the gates. At the appointed time, the iron gates open between the arch enemy countries that have been at war since 1947 when Pakistan was carved out of India as a separate country for Muslims.
Both sides then lower their flags and fold these simultaneously, followed by a curt grasping handshake between soldiers from the two countries.
“This is my 25th visit to the Wagah border,” says Arora, an executive member of the BJP youth in Amritsar. “Whenever we have relatives or friends visiting, I bring them here.”
While Arora is watching the spectacle quietly, his cousin in the back rows is shouting slogans of ‘Hindustan zindabad’ (long live India) rousing the vast crowds to emulate his calls. Popular patriotic songs from Hindi films boisterously spout forth from the loudspeakers stirring the crowds to scream even more.
Men, women and children are seen running with the Indian flag on the pathway between the crowds congregated to watch the unfolding spectacle between the two countries. Through the bars on the closed gates, a similar display can be seen on the other side as Pakistanis shout comparable slogans in support of their country.
Sandeep and Rajni Khanna have also travelled from New Delhi bringing visitors from overseas to watch the daily display.
“It’s fun to see this. It’s a part of history and there is a curiosity about Pakistan. Our parents are from there and although we have been arch enemies and hearing stories about the other side, this place draws us,” says Khanna.
The couple watch the parade of tall Indian army soldiers marching briskly towards the gates leading to the border, kicking their long legs high in the air pointing towards Pakistan in succession as if in contempt. From the Pakistani side, there is a similar march. Both parties glare at each other in condescension as they perform for the benefit of the large crowds gathered.
The military practice played out every evening began more than 50 years ago in 1959. At that time, the Wagah border was the only road link between the two countries, but even as other ways of travel opened up, the daily ritual continues. The melodramatic performance is watched avidly by visitors from all over India and the globe.
“It’s a scene straight out of Bollywood,” says Khanna as he claps and shouts slogans in support of his country along with the rest of the men, women and children gathered at the Wagah border.
(Renu Mehta is the Consulting Editor of The Indian Express and Divya Bhaskar for North American edition)