Friday, March 18, 2005

Wah Wagah

I visited the Wagah border between India and Pakistan today. I’ve wanted to for a while, and it didn’t disappoint. Located on the straight Attari Road about 30 kilometres from Amritsar, the Wagah border consists of two huge walled gates, one on either side of the evocatively green, vast farmland of the state of Punjab. But wait – a description like that is simplifying the whole experience. The energy (of full-blooded Indians, especially Punjabis), curiosity (of a host of foreigners and NRIs, and then people born curious like me), excitement (of school children herded along by protective teachers, and everyone else in general) has to be seen to be believed. The ‘event’ as I call it, starts as soon as you step out of your car, as you wait in a crowd to start walking the half-kilometre to the gate. People young and old, of all colours and sizes, try to walk fast, jog and run to make sure they get a good place to view the goings-on. I got there about half an hour early, and we were strictly made to wait by the side of the road till we were let in at about 5 p.m. Anyone who is out of line is herded back by smartly-dressed Indian soldiers, with red and gold turbans sitting majestically on their heads.

The lowering-of-flags ceremony starts at 5.30 and till then the crowd on either side (the Pakistanis have filled up their viewing arena by then as well) shouts and cheers for their respective countries. An officious-looking gentleman warned the Indian crowd not to say anything against ‘them’. The only permitted slogans, apparently, were ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’, ‘Hindustan Zindabad’ and ‘Vande Mataram’. I don’t agree with the ‘Hindustan Zindabad’ part as I believe that India comprises of much more than just Hindus, but I got caught up in the atmosphere and shouted lustily with the rest of the crowd. It reminded me of my college days, but this was much better. I had a more heightened awareness of what was happening around me – and I think time plays a part in this. I hadn’t lost any of my ‘josh’ though, thankfully!

The parade itself is quite good to watch. On the Pakistani side of the gate, I could see the Pakistani soldiers in their navy-blue Pathani salwar kurtas and turbaned heads performing the same actions as their Indian counterparts. After a few minutes of ceremonious marching, the Indian and Pakistani flags, flying high on their masts till then, crossed as they were lowered. They were then folded perfectly (the Indian flag was chakra-side-up) and carried away in a line by their soldiers.

On one hand, it was a pretty simple event, but on the other, with its open-to-public viewing policy, hearty cheering and the lowering of flags in perfect tandem, there is something intensely patriotic about the whole experience.

I made a quick stop at Attari on the way back – its just a couple of kilometers away from the border. Having grown up on a diet of Hindi movies, I wanted to see where one of Bollywood’s latest blockbusters, Yash Chopra’s Veer-Zaara (and I haven’t even watched the complete movie) was shot. Attari is a small station through which the train from India to Pakistan passes. The station was dark and sleepy, apart from a few porters and watchmen hanging around. It was quite a change from the hustle-bustle of other Indian stations. I must have looked quite silly, taking pictures on the overbridge on which Preity Zinta and Shah Rukh Khan stood in a particular scene (not that I think they are luminaries of Indian cinema or anything!), and the porters were looking at me quite amused. A typical crazy Anjali-type thing to do, but it's my life after all, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience

1 comment:

Raccoon said...

Hey wanderstruck..:)
Loved this description...I've always wanted to see've been travelling quite a bit havent you!

ok the bit about Hindustani - Hinduism, till other religions came in and made demarcations, was more about a way of life. Hinduism in its truest sense still remains a lifestyle..more than a religion that India in many ways still emulates. Its a different thing that radical elements have made it a dirty word.

As a modern term, Hindu has evolved from the Indo-Iranian root sindhu. This Proto-Indo-Iranian word *sindhus literally refers to the “Indus river” and the culture pertaining to its long expansive valley. This is where Hindu culture first developed.
Historically, however, at a very early date, Persian explorers entered the Indian subcontinent from the far Northwest. After they returned, they published chronicles. But due to the phonetics of their native Persian language, the ‘S’ of Sind became an aspirated ‘H.’ This is how the people of the Indus Valley came to be known generically as “Hindus” by the Persians. This flawed intonation inevitably stuck and was later re-imported when the invading Moguls conquered India. Since they always referred to the locals as “Hindus,” the term was adopted by the Indians themselves as a way of dis-tinguishing native culture from that of the foreign Muslims. So maybe the next time you shout out about Hindustan, you wont feel non-secular:-)