Patriotic chants and cheers fill the air as Border Security Force (BSF) personnel and their steeds try their best to herd people into more manageable formations. The excitement is palpable, with the massive crowd straining to get to the seating area at the Wagah border, situated between the historic cities of Amritsar and Lahore. The Indo-Pak border ceremony here is said to be a "must see" event for anyone visiting Amritsar.
Egged on by a BSF guard, people chant patriotic slogans. Children holding Indian flags run up to the Pakistani gate and back, cheered by the crowd. Bollywood songs blare through speakers as people dance and sing along. Some people in the crowd can be heard abusing Pakistan and Pakistanis in unprintable language for no apparent reason. A few youngsters discuss how their day would be made, if only they could cross over to the Pakistani side and assault a few "terrorists" in the seating area. The BSF guard aggressively motivates the crowd during a lull, when the Pakistani side's cheers can be heard. With wide-eyed disbelief at the Indians' apparent lack of "patriotism" at the sound of "Pakistan Zindabad", he uses his microphone and frantic gesticulations to whip up what the crowd believed to be patriotic fervour. I thought they were the reactions of an unimaginative mob. The ceremony itself is an extension of the charged atmosphere. Magnificently attired guards from both sides aggressively stomp, glare and posture, in this daily routine of choreographed contempt before lowering the flags, shaking hands and shutting the gate.
"There are a few lewd comments and gestures at women present, interspersed with throaty "Vande Matarams" in the same breath."
As I leave the border, I can hear almost everyone say it was the most "patriotic" experience of their life. With due respect to their emotions, I find that hard to believe; probably because many continued this conversation while relieving themselves along a wall nearby. Barking out "Bharat Mata Ki Jai" a few minutes ago didn't leave a lasting effect I guess. There are a few lewd comments and gestures at women present, interspersed with throaty "Vande Matarams" in the same breath. Another glaring aspect was the general lack of logical reasoning. For such a precise ceremony to take place there is obvious planning and coordination between both countries' security forces. The carefully choreographed lowering of flags and closing of the gates are examples. The majority were too carried away by chest-thumping xenophobia to notice.
The explicit overtures from both sides reinforce the unfortunate stereotype that we are waiting to pounce at each other's throats. The powers that be should be very cautious about propagating this atmosphere. It is fuel to a never-ending fire.
Why do we really need this ceremony? What mature purpose does it serve? It doesn't improve bilateral ties or the lives of people in both nations in any way. The regrettable part of this affair is that most people feel that they have done a good deed for their country by showing their "solidarity" to it.
Why does a government allow its people to believe that this is the sort of solidarity it expects from its citizens?
I would rather it elevates the common man's understanding of tolerance by shutting the gate without any ostentatious ceremony and focus on more tangible pursuits that bring about lasting change. This would speak a language of peace, convey a desire for serious change and practical logic, characteristic of a mature nation rather than synchronised drama every evening.
I feel disappointed that my countrymen and women couldn't see the bigger picture that day, that they didn't display respect and civic sense in their conduct. When a microphone and chants can dull the voice of reason and make a person believe that patriotism is equivalent to cheering louder than the Pakistani side, it is a sad day for civilisation as we know it. I would like to see a day when two guards nonchalantly close the border gates at 6pm, with perhaps a friendly wave or even a curt nod instead of boot stomping; when everyone would consider good behaviour and courtesy tantamount to patriotism.
Until that day comes, I would prefer to avoid this orchestrated ego boost and instead, spend time with the friendly residents of Amritsar and savour their amazing cuisine.