When We Went to Wagah
I knew that Pakistan and India were serious competitors. Their rivalries has been bubbling since Partition, boiling over in 1971, again in the nineties over Kashmir, and in international Cricket matches. But to me, these rivalries have been pages in text books or stories on the evening news. I had never experienced their rivalry first hand until Monday. Our adventure to the Wagah Border crossing began with our arranged rickshaw ride trying to exploit us, which Tracy would have none of. After negotiating an acceptable price for ourselves and another westerner who was being ripped off (Global-LAB helping others) we made our way across the Punjab towards Pakistan.
The ride was uneventful (except for passing a gym called "Guns") until we arrived at a dirt parking lot with small food stands lining the far side of the road from the car. As soon as we pulled in to the parking lot the car was swarmed by kids selling the cheapest cardboard visors and Indian flags for ten rupies each. After negotiating the price down to five each, we all bought something from then to show our blood bleeds orange, white and green, except for Caitlin. Since she had no pro-Indian paraphernalia, a herd of child-vendors followed her around shouting "please, please, please" and becoming increasingly insistant that she should by a visor or flag. They eventually dispersed after insisting that she was not interested in their useless stuff.
As we approached the border, we could see a large arch over the road with bleachers on either side. A lone guard in a goofy dress uniform stood under the arch. He was wearing tan pants and button down shirt with highly polished black leather shoes and and white pleather ankle raps. the strangest thing about his outfit was the black felt cap with a red, black and gold fan atop his head. It stood straight up about fifteen inches into the air, and was attached ot the right side of his head. He was tall and wiry man as many of the guards were. He forcefully pointed us towards a fenced path around the guard house. we walked along toward two men in black dress uniforms on horseback behind a low barbed wire fence and hedges. We soon guessed that these men were Pakistani guards on their side of the border, no more than twenty feet away. We all came to silent agreement that,despite the head fans, the Pakistani guards looked far more menacing than their Indian counter-parts. Some Pakistanis and one westerner stood with the guards across the border staring at the crowd of Indians filing through.
As we rounded the guard house we could clearly see the stadium surrounding the road to Pakistan and the gate separating the two nations. Hundreds of Indians packed the bleachers, some down by the gate taking a picture with the family. We found our seats and waited for the ceremony to begin. From our position on the bleachers I could clearly see the Pakistani stadium. It was smaller than the Indian side, but the most striking feature was the separation of men and women. on my right sat the men, dancing in the isle, while the women sat quietly on the other side of the road.
After five minutes in our seats the ceremony began. Some lucky Indians ran towards the gate waving a large Indian flags to the delight of the crowd. After three passes, music blared over the PA system while a group of Indian men began to dance like it was Holi in the center of the stadium. Immediately Noah, Matt, and J.B. began to debate whether it was wise to venture into the mosh pit fuelled by nationalistic fervor. After some tense minutes of "will they, won't they" they ventured down into the crazed group of men. Immediately they were spotted and mauled by the party. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for the three of them) the bugal sounded only after thirty seconds in the party, signaling the beginning of the ceremony.
The guards began to march while another guard shouted through the PA "HINDUSTAN!" We shouted back "ZINDA BAAD" (probably spelt wrong) which translates to "long live India". It is interesting that the guard shouts Hindustan because a large portion of the group were Sikh, not Hindi. The guards lined up and with impressive high stepping they opened the gates. Three different guards approached the border, touched the other side and returned to the line with the last guards shaking hands. the Pakistani guards mirrored each move. After this saluting and marching, each side raised their flag on their respective sides inches from the border. After a moment of cheering while the flags were raised, the flags were lowered, each side saluted and the gate shut.
This event is carried out seven days a week. In retrospect the event showed much professional respect between the guards and the chanting was positive. The guards showed great pomp and posturing, but they shook hands and were not hostile to each other. The feeling in the stands was pro-India, but not anti-Pakistan. I cannot speak for Pakistan's side, but the chants were similar. Even so, the two countries remain divided this ceremony does little to bridge that gap.