India and Pakistan: Not ordinary enemies

Before I start this post, I must clarify that I am NOT writing this based on a deep and studied understanding of the politics of the relationship between India and Pakistan. This post is based entirely on my observations of the Wagha Border Closing Ceremony that I attended yesterday.

The Wagha border refers to the border between India and Pakistan, located about 30kms from Amritsar, Punjab.  Upon partition, Punjab was actually divided into two, with this border literally dividing neighbours into separate countries. Each afternoon a ceremony is held to mark the closing of the border for the day.

The road to the border is not too long but rather dusty.  I got there in the back of an 8 person jeep with 12 passengers, it was squashy to say the least.  Upon arriving near the border there are about hundred goods trucks lined up on the roadside, they don’t seem to be going anywhere and neither are we.  So it’s all out of the jeep and on foot from thereon in.

I was the only foreigner on the jeep and it was rather unclear what the process was from here, so I followed three other Indian tourists, as we meandered our way through a growing crowd of locals. Soon we were in the thick of a heaving crowd that was pushing us forward.  For someone who is used to personal space, queuing in India is certainly challenging me.  The pushing, shoving and pressing of flesh with no room for air is something I am not sure I will ever get used to. Thankfully someone alerted me to a women’s queue, so my new friend Pushpa (a Rajasthani woman travelling with her husband) and I moved towards the air.

Pushpa cannot speak a word of English, and my Hindi is still very sketchy, but somehow we just knew we couldn’t lose each other.  So we kept an eye on each other and made sure we were still together when we entered the arena for the show. The arena is basically a road leading to the border gate with stadium like steps built for the masses to sit and watch.  There is sex segregation, with men farthest away from the action.

The women get all the fun.

Pushpa looks at me and with her finger directs me to follow her as she runs onto the road towards the border security guards.  There are about 20 women lined up and some running towards the Pakistan gate carrying the Indian flag.  Its crazy, but hey when in Rome…. so there I am running with the Indian flag whilst about 2,000 people cheer me on as I taunt the Pakistani guards on the other side of the fence.

After all the women have tired of running, the music starts and the border road turns into a Bollywood moshpit.  I look at Pushpa and she follows me down to join in the all female party.  We jump and do our best Bollywood dance moves, it is so much fun.  I feel sorry for the men, who can only watch and cheer whilst the women sing and dance.

I can’t see what is going on on the other side of the gate, but I can hear big cheers and music on the Pakistani side as well.

Upon returning to our seats, I notice a separate section for the foreigners, even closer to the action. So grabbing Pushpa we go towards the much less cramped seating. The guard stops us, I am allowed but Pushpa is not.  After several minutes of discussion, I finally get Pushpa in as a foreigner and she gets to sit closer to the action than any other local Indian is allowed. She looked at me beaming, we were both having a ball.

Then the real ceremony starts.

On one side of the fence, the Indian guards march along the road to the gate and taunt their neighbours with high kick marching.  The Pakistan guards do a similar ceremony on the other said. This “dance” continues for quite a while, and the crowd laps it up. Cheering, chanting and waving their flags. It’s like being at a rock concert.

Then both gates open and for a few minutes there is nothing between India and Pakistan at all.  The head guards from each side meet in the middle and quickly shake hands, and bring down both flags.  Quickly the gates are shut and the border is closed.

All is serious again and its time to head home.

It seems to me that these two enemies are not so different after all. I have crossed several land borders in my travels, the last being between Israel and Jordan, and I cannot even imagine any such frivolity and joking going on there.  Despite the political tensions, India and Pakistan can still take the time to have a joke with each other and take the opportunity to enjoy a moment for what it is…. pure entertainment.