It’s no secret that India and Pakistan are long-time rivals and, often, enemies. Border territory, like Kashmir, is still disputed, and more than one war has been fought over the last fifty years. But the rivalry descends into its silliest at the border in Wagha, outside Amritsar.
It seems, over the years, “oneupsmanship” between the Indian and Pakistani border guards has led to quite a spectacle every night as the border closes. We arrived in our rickshaw amid hundreds of other Indians attending the ceremony, many with Indian flags, many in armed forces uniforms. The number of parked cars along the road makes for a long walk to the border, where giant permanent concrete spectator stands line both the Indian and Pakistani sides. It’s really like attending a major sporting event. We are lead to seats in the “tourist” section and have a seat.
Though we are 45 minutes early for the ceremony, the party has already started. Bollywood music is blasting over the speakers and people are lined up to carry the Indian flag down the road to the gate separating the countries. The old, hobbled people receive the biggest applause.
A little later, the flags disappear and the dancing begins, and the stands continue to fill. By the time the ceremony starts, the Indian side is completely full, while the Pakistani side remains decidedly empty, perhaps with 50 or so people. Not really a contest over who will be the loudest.
It starts with the introduction of the guards, almost like a starting lineup is announced, and as they enter, it is our first view of the much repeated high-leg kick. Then, repeated shouts of “Hindustan” with some sort of incomprehensible response from the crowd. This will also be a recurring theme.
It’s hard for us understand and remember exactly what all happened next, but there was definitely some speed marching to the gate, long, drawn out “aaahhh” sounds, a few salutes, and a few openings of the gate where at identically but oppositely clad Pakistani guard would do the exact opposite of the Indian guard. Each action was met with thunderous applause and celebration. Eventually, both sides were in position holding their still waving flags, and at the signal, everyone pulled down their various flags at exactly the same time and exactly the same speed. Then there was the emphatic closing of gates and speed marching back into the border guard house, all met with more thunderous applause. We couldn’t help but laugh through nearly the entire event.
While it was completely silly and ridiculous, it’s the kind of thing that gives you some hope about the relationship between these two countries. If I may paraphrase Lewis Black, things go to shit when there’s no one to poke fun and everyone is too serious to laugh. India and Pakistan are always going to be rivals, but it needs to become a friendly and silly rivalry rather than a dangerous one. These kinds of events seemed to be step in the right direction, and it was hilarious to watch to boot!