desi Goes To Wagah Border Parade & Prays for Peace
I first saw Wagah Border Ceremony with wife jee and daughter and it was a nostalgic trip for us as across the barbed wires and imposing gates she could see Pakistan. After that I have watched Wagah Border Ceremony many times and each time I come back with a different feeling.
Situated just 31.5 KM from the holy city of Amritsar, Wagah is not just a border it represents everything that the two nations theory based on religion proposed and succeeded during the Indian freedom movement. What were one people for more than 5000 years were two countries overnight and continue to go to war periodically?
As we crossed multiple check posts on the GT Road that was first built by Samrat Ashok from what is today’s Afghanistan to all the way to Dhaka I notice that all the roads from Amritsar lead to Wagah Border. From Wagah border, Lahore is only 24 Km, which means if India and Pakistan were not two countries by now the two cities could have easily merged in one seamless metropolis, like Delhi, Noida, Gurgaon or how Pune and Mumbai are growing in each other’s direction
Anyways I digress, let me take you to the Beating Retreat or as it is popularly called Flag Lowering Ceremony by Border Security Force and Pakistan Rangers at Wagah border. Interestingly both Indian and Pakistan call it Wagah Border, technically Wagah is in Pakistan and the village on the Indian side is Atari, the last station on Indian Railways, from where you can take a Train to Pakistan – called Samjhauta Express.
As we get down from our vehicle few teenage boys run towards me and without giving me time put something cold on my face. I took a step back and screamed at them
“ What the hell, kya kar rahe ho”
“Nothing sir, I am just painting a Tiranga (Tricolor National Flag of India), on your face.”
I am not comfortable with the idea of a stranger painting on my face so I backed off. I was immediately declared unpatriotic, and a miser as I was not willing to shell out 10 Rs for artwork by this aspiring Picasso. But other folks around love the idea and are happy to be painted with Tiranga on their faces, I see old aunties, young boys, NRI families who have special entry and gallery dedicated to them. There are also some foreigners who are amused at all this but love the attention we desis shower on them.
The Wagah Parade Ceremony has not changed much since its start in 1959 and begins with patriotic slogans on both sides. Typically the Indian side takes lead with a jam-packed stadium while the Pakistani side rarely fills the capacity on one side of the stadium.
As Indian side screams
“भारत माता की जय हिंदुस्तान ज़िंदाबाद Bharat Mata Kee Jai, and Hindustan Zindabad”, the Pakistanis also come in Josh and shout back –
“जीवे जीवे पाकिस्तान, जीवे जीवे पाकिस्तान
Jeeve Jeeve Pakistan, Jeeve Jeeve Pakistan”
The sloganeering competition is a one-sided contest with Indians outnumbering Pakistanis on any given day.
To give credit to Pakistanis their crowd appears to be more disciplined, almost bordering boredom and are waiting for the ceremony to start. It was interesting to note that men and women were sitting in different galleries on Pakistan side, with only a few women sitting with men in what appears to be their version of VIP gallery.
Soon a brief history of the ceremony is played on the Indian side on loudspeakers and one of the officers of BSF ( Border Security Force ) announces that the daily ceremony is about to start 2 women officers of BSF are the first one to march towards the gate and are greeted with a thunderous applause by the crowd.
The actual Parade Ceremony at Wagah begins around 5 pm when a good tempo of slogans has pumped up the energy.
As the Wagah Border Parade ceremony starts around 5 pm, the BSF Jawans and officers march towards the Iron Gate that separates the two countries and has is opened every evening for the Wagah Border Ceremony. The jawans from BSF and Pakistan Rangers try to outwit each other with looking each other in eyes, stomping ground like a raging bull, and when they stop their march, the legs rise high above their heads. On my first visit to Wagah this whole display of bravado seemed very impressive to me, but on this visit, I actually felt that this is actually a synchronized show only the two teams are playing to galleries. This by no means is to show any disrespect to our brave armed forces but only to say that it is a great visual delight to watch amidst all the sloganeering for us civilians who have no idea what the life of a soldier is, for us it is reduced just to a selfie and photographing opportunity and the soldiers know this and put up a great show.
What actually happens in the Wagah Border Ceremony?
Once the gates are opened the actual ceremony of lowering the flags begins, with trumpet plays and slowly the Indian and Pakistani flags are lowered in a synchronized manner to the music.
All this while the two gates one belonging to Pakistan and one to India are open and one can see across the border without any hindrance. I take this opportunity to click pictures of the Pakistani side as this is the closest I have ever seen Pakistan or Pakistanis. The faces on Pakistan side are similar to the ones on Indian side only more people are dressed in traditional clothes and I see only a few kids in Jeans. Most of the women in the general enclosure are wearing Burka and cover their head but are still strikingly good-looking. No wonder our Bollywood producers keep on discovering and launching one Pakistani heroine after another.
As the ceremony ends the men in uniform shake hands still trying to size each other. Soon the flags are folded, and the soldiers close the gate and while the Pakistani side is soon abandoned, on the Indian side it is a mad rush to run and touch the gates by the overzealous crowd. A lot of selfies and picture are clicked along with the gate and BSF jawans, and then you start hearing announcements that we need to vacate the stadium as the ceremony has ended.
I too start walking towards our parked vehicle wondering about what all I had seen on the Wagah Border. Not much has changed here in the ceremony since it first began and has survived a bomb attack on Pakistan side of Wagah border by a suicide bomber on 2nd November 2014, killing more than 50 people and injuring 100s.
Now logically this post should have ended here with my prayer for peace and thank you all for reading with a request to share it further on Facebook, LinkedIn, twitter and Google+ ( you can still do that :)! )
But when I was doing further research for this post about Wagah Border ceremony, I came across two interesting articles
One is about Amarjeet Singh, the first Sikh Ranger in Pakistan Army and posted on Wagah Border. Amarjeet hails from Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Shree Guru Nanak Jee. Amarjeet is a Pakistani and believed to be first Sikh ever to join the Pakistan Armed forces and has vowed to fight the enemy to protect Pakistan. Now if you look at history than we and Pakistan are not best of the buddies and are willing to go to war if needed.
The second incident is again about a Sardarjee, an NRI who god knows under what circumstances either drunk or a moment of bravado jumped all the security checks and rammed his SUV into the gates between two countries. He could not cross the border, but one of the theories floating around was that he wanted free access to Nankana Sahib the holy city for Sikhs. The second incident was also widely reported in both Indian and Pakistani media.
Two incidents, two Sardarjis on two sides of borders. One has taken a pledge to protect the border and the other wanted to break the border. I am sure like millions of families in both India and Pakistan they have roots in this land before the border was decided and we became 2 countries. Amarjeet’s family decided to stay in Pakistan at the time of partition and today he is protecting Pakistan, the NRI Sardarjee’s family moved on but is still missing the roots. Who is right who is wrong ? I don’t have an answer, do you? But just add Syeds, Khans, Chowdhry, Kapoors, Sethis, and countless other last names that people of both side of Wagah Border share and you are bound to Imagine, just like I did, just like John Lenon did.
Now here is what I imagine, call it my wishful thinking, inspired from John Lenon, and not considering me impractical just imagine, as he says it is not too hard if you try.
Let us fast froward to a date sometime in future, all hostilities, differences and disputes between India and Pakistan have been resolved amicably. We are like Europe, with individual sovereign governments etc. but open borders with people and goods moving around freely. And when I say people I mean there are no terrorists anywhere becausethere is no reason for anybody to indulge in any form of terrorism.
But, but as the Wagah Border Ceremony has been such a big hit all these years, the two governments decide to continue with the ceremony, only there is twist in the tale
To show to the people what happened in the past the ceremony begins with mock hostilities, stomping of feet, jingoistic slogan shouting, sizing of soldiers etc.
Then as the gates open the soldiers on two side look at each other and start walking towards each other with bloodshot eyes.
Then at a dramatic moment just as everybody is looking for some kind of bravado or fight, suddenly the body language of the soldier’s change and the clenched fists change into open arms.
First hugs and then handshakes happen, as the crowd goes berserk and screams to heavens. The two soldiers one from India and one from Pakistan whisper in each other’s ears:
Pakistani Ranger , “ Bhaijan, shift kay bad, come back, apke liye Chicken Lahori pack karwa kar laya hoon ”
And the BSF jawan replies -, “ Shukria bhai, main bhee apke liye Jalebian Wale chowk say jalebi laya hoon, come quickly as thandee hoke achee nahin lagtee”
With this they wink and continue their act. Once the crowds go home, the Indian and Pakistani soldiers sit back relax and enjoy the delicacies they have brought for each other in true desi Potluck style
Maybe I am a dreamer? But I am not alone I am just stating what John Lenon Mentioned. Just look at Europe, a war savaged region for more than 2000 years, every since the Roman Empire disintegrated. It took the Europeans 2 millennium to reach the current state of relative peace since Second World War. So it is not wishful thinking that one day there will be much-needed peace between India and Pakistan and only travelers will cross the border that too without any hassles.
With this, I close this post leaving you to listen to this message of peace and love by John Lennon
Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one
Useful information about Wagah Border Ceremony:
The Flag Lowering Ceremony on Wagah border takes place every day around sunset, it is better to reach latest by 4:30 to get better seats. There are separate galleries and entrance for foreigners and NRIs. You are not allowed to carry any large bags, tripods etc. to the ceremony and there are only private lockers near the parking, so better not carry anything that is essential.
How to reach Wagah Border: You can drive right up to parking area, in about 30-45 minutes from Amritsar which is about 31.5 KM from Wagah. Private shared taxis are available from Golden Temple for Wagah Border.
What to see nearby: There is famous Pull Kanjari built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh for his favorite court dancer and you can also visit Atari Railway Station nearby.
My trip to Punjab was on invitation of Punjab Tourism
Some of the earlier posts in Discover Punjab Series can be read here
Earlier post about visit to Wagah can be read here: Train To Pakistan
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