It was a hot, sunny afternoon in Amritsar. But that was no deterrent for the hundreds of people who were heading to Wagah Border for the lowering of the flags ceremony. And I was one of them. The ceremony is a daily military practice followed by the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Pakistan Rangers, since 1959.
The rush was maddening, to say the least. It was almost as if the government decided to give away a day’s visa to visit Pakistan. Two haughty young ladies who tried to force their way into one of the gates were shooed away by security personnel. They were later cribbing about it to another gentleman, who happened to be a retired Army officer. “They are bloody rude!” one of the girls grumbled. To that the gentleman said, almost defending the actions of the security personnel; “Don’t talk like that. That’s their duty”. Fifteen minutes later, the same retired officer was driven away by the security personnel in exactly the same manner. But one can’t blame them, really. It’s not easy to manage crowds in such large numbers.
The crowd included elderly people, foreign nationals, people with toddlers in tow and photography enthusiasts including myself carrying huge cameras and not caring about tugging them along with the crowd. There was pushing, stomping on each other’s feet, forcing the gates open and what not! But in all of this craziness, I didn’t see even one person walking back or giving up the hope of witnessing the ceremony. As I was walking with the crowds towards the border, I wondered what it was that drew so many people to Wagah. Love for the country, patriotism, curiosity or thrill? I really don’t know what it is or maybe it’s all of these reasons. But for me the reason was fascination. Fascination to see what exactly transpires at the border, fascination to see what it’s like across the border, to see ‘those’ people, to see the other side, of us.
Benazir Bhutto once said, “There is a little bit of India in every Pakistani and a little bit of Pakistan in every Indian". And this is exactly the reason why I am referring to Pakistan as the other side of us. What are India and Paksitan after all? One country separated years ago on paper and by geographical boundaries but perhaps not in spirit. And with so much in common between the two sides; culture, language, food, music, cricket and the passion with which they love and hate each other, it is almost impossible to detach them from one another. Almost like the current, unlikely possibility of the two countries reaching an agreement of peaceful co-existence.
From Bollywood numbers like ’Chak de India’ and ‘Suno gaur se duniya walon’ playing in the background to shouts of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ and ‘Hindustan Zindabad’; from being able to see people sitting on the other side and wondering what must be going on in their heads and hearts, to the powerful show put up by the BSF and Pakistan Rangers. The experience at Wagah is gripping, no doubt. But for me, the icing on the cake was the moment when the flags of both India and Pakistan are lowered in diagonal unison. It’s a beautiful sight indeed, a sight that springs hope.