A visit to the Wagah Border is a must if you happen to be in Amritsar. DLF5 resident Ankita Dhanda recounts her experience of attending the closing ceremony amid cheers of Vande Mataram.
Earlier this summer, when I went to Amritsar, we took a day trip to the Wagah Border. Located 28 km from Amritsar, Wagah Border is the only open border between India and Pakistan and is officially accessible by both the nations. It took us a couple of hours to reach there by car on a road that eventually leads to Lahore and is known as the Grand Trunk Road.
Fortunately for us, we had VIP passes and didn’t have to wait for hours in a queue like the multitudes present to attend the Closing Ceremony though we did wait for the ceremony which is also known as ‘lowering of the flags’. This is a daily custom that the security forces from India (BSF) and Pakistan (Pakistan Rangers) have mutually followed since 1959. The ceremony takes place every evening before sunset. The show starts off with the playing of patriotic songs and remembering the brave soldiers who laid down their lives for the country.
The heat was generous and all we could do till the seats were all filled was tap our feet to Vande Matram, Chak De and other patriotic songs playing on loudspeakers this side and strains of Jee Le Pakistan on that side of No Man’s Land. But what happened was more than just some foot-tapping. The music was like a burst of patriotic energy through the spectators’ veins. Soon the arena was filled with chants of Bharat Mata Ki Jai and people came down from their seats. They started dancing as dhols appeared out of nowhere and women of all ages started doing laps of the corridor, running the length of the arena, holding India Tricolour. Never had I seen such a display of patriotism except, perhaps, when India recently won the Cricket World Cup in Mumbai.
I absolutely did fail to understand why everyone was feeling so patriotic, so loyal to the Motherland at a border post. I can understand that almost 7 ft tall hyper aggressive soldiers arouse some kind of feelings in onlookers but how are those feelings that of patriotism? And their goosestepping hadn’t even started yet!
The Beating The Retreat ceremony starts with a stiff-marching parade by the soldiers from both the sides. Soon after the heavy gates at the Wagah Border are flung open and two soldiers from each side shake hands and begin to lower the Indian and Pakistani flags fixed on high poles at the gates simultaneously. The flags are neatly folded and carried back into the respective camps. There is a final brisk handshake between the soldiers from either side which is followed by the slammed closing of both the gates and blowing of trumpet to mark the end of the impressive ceremony.
The Wagah Border is often called the Berlin Wall of Asia. We are all aware of the kind of sentiments that were associated with the Wall and I doubt it was any misplaced sense of German patriotism. Then why did Wagah do that to us? Did we forget in that moment of great celebration why there is a border at Wagah? What we, both India and Pakistan, had to pay for this very popular tourist destination? Because the only thing I could think of while standing in this otherwise sleepy village with wonderfully green rice fields was the Partition.
Litterateur Kamleshwar, in his short story Long Live Freedom, describes the nations as “civilisation that had raised walls of blood and formed rivers of tears.” I quote a writer because the only references to partition I’ve come across are in books. In Manju Kapur’s Difficult Daughters, essentially about love and feminism, what really does stay with the reader was the piercing sadness of the partition – mobs in Amritsar and Lahore, murders in the marketplace and homes no longer homes. In Khushwant Singh’s Toba Tek Singh you really want to laugh at his subtle jokes, but end up with moist eyes. In his Train to Pakistan, the frivolity of the violence leaves one angry.
In With a Stroke of a Pen, a collection of short stories by young Pakistani writers, you just hope that what they’ve written is fiction. It’s unnatural, that much hatred, isn’t it? It occurred to me that maybe writers romanticise the partition by exaggerating the level of violence prevalent then. I decided to talk to someone who had lived through it. My friend’s grandfather who was studying in Lahore then, told me, “the women of the family had to hide and the men took turns guarding the house.” I could’ve asked more The author is a resident of DLF5 but I sensed he didn’t really want to talk about it. I guess I understood why the topic wasn’t popular, why we were celebrating at Wagah. What else could we do really? Wagah is actually an active participant in improving India-Pakistan relations including facilitation of trade and people’s movements across the border.
And the best part? In 2010, both the countries agreed to tone down the aggressiveness exhibited by soldiers during the gate closing ceremony that continues to attract visitors from both sides of the border as well as a large number of foreigners.