Peeping across the Wagah border

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The bizarre and spectacular ritual at the Wagah border.
The bizarre and spectacular ritual at the Wagah border.

I was looking at the Indian soil for the first time in my life. The same land as ours with so many links of heritage and grandeur of Muslim past

By Abida Rahmani

I have lived in Lahore for several years and visited it scores of times. I had the opportunity to explore it through different angels–its historical beauty, past and present grandeur, museums, zoos, beautiful mosques, historical sprawling gardens, parks, shopping centers, food street, restaurants, educational institutions but never got to visit the Wagah border between India and Pakistan to watch the spectacular ceremony of flag-wrapping and the cross-border ‘friendly’ acts and gestures by soldiers from the two countries.
It was a sweltering, hot day in mid June this year, when I reached there.

The mercury touched 47-48c in Lahore during day time which coupled with humidity felt even higher. The humidity effect increases the heat considerably. Witnessing my enthusiasm, my hosts kindly arranged for my visit to the Wagah border.
I have heard a lot about this ceremony on both sides of the border through pictures of friends and family. I am not sure that if this is just a made-up culture in these two countries or this takes place in other parts and borders of the world too. I have crossed USA and Canadian borders numerous times but never witnessed anything so bizarre and spectacular. Over there on both sides the custom and immigration just mind their own business. Sometimes too much vigilance makes you miserable and cautious for none of your fault.

At the Pearson International Airport, Toronto, the USA starts right there with a welcoming board right on the Canadian soil and you go through the US immigration and customs right there.

Lahore has changed in the past few years–a bit transformed rather–developed with a brand new ring road which bypasses the big city’s rush. It is a 3-lane wide freeway type of road with exits and entries. This has streamlined most of Lahore’s unruly traffic.

There is a separate road for the recently launched Metro bus service. This is just unique, like a railway or train service. I was told that the unruly riders on the bus broke up the sliding doors and caused a lot of damage. Hopefully they are educated or trained enough now to embark and disembark in a more civilized manner.

I also saw some other big buses plying as local transport in the city. Looking forward to the days when a decent or once again a double-decker bus service is introduced in Islamabad and Rawalpindi area.
The road to Wagah was clear, we crossed Jalo. I had been to Jalo Park many times but it now made me look forward to Wagah. I and my young companion were received warmly at the gate by troops of the Punjab Rangers, providing us VIP treatment and protocol.

I was impatient to see the land behind the gates, the land of our neighbors or the so-called enemy most of the time in my lifetime. As soon as I gulped my sandwich and tea, we opened the door and selected our seats close to the gate. It was great excitement and demonstration of patriotism on both side.

The ceremony started with the recitation of Holy Quran, the Indians narrated some thing too in Hindi or Sanskrit. On our side, we heard Arabic and Urdu slogans, Pakistan Zindabaad, Naara-e-Takbir Allahu Akbar, Pakistan ka Matlab KIA? Lailaha ill Allah, Muhammad Ur Rasool Ulla.

While on the other side it was a mix of Hindi and Sanskrit –Bharat Mata JI ki Jai, Jai Hind and so on. We were playing our national songs in Urdu, Pashto and Punjabi. They were playing Chak de India and many more. It seemed quite a bit of competition with applause and slogans from the cheering crowd.

We look quite a bit the same on both sides. Yet we are different–in religion, in culture and maybe most of the values. Then our national anthems were sung on both sides. We are two nations and that is what the two nation theory is all about.
The Indian side was jam-packed and our side and stands were a bit empty. But the excitement and slogans were at a very high pitch.
Then came the two men dressed up in Pakistani uniform with big flags in their hands, swirling around chanting slogans and showed their skills and feats along with the drum beaters with flags on sides.

It was an absolute spectacle, a great entertainment to watch and enjoy. After the announcement from both countries the parade started. Our soldiers, tall and sturdy wearing black militia uniforms of traditional shalwar kameez with ceremonial turbans and the Indians in their khakis with their orange turbans a bit shorter in size. Ultimately the gates got opened on both sides.

On our gates it was clearly inscribed ‘Pakistan’ in Urdu and on Indian side I’m sure it was Bharat in Hindi because their script is a bit similar to Bangla script, which I tried to decipher. I was looking at the Indian soil for the first time in my life.

The same land as ours; however it is of my neighboring country with so many links of heritage and past grandeur of Muslim history. It was the same kind of feeling when I visited Torkham border and saw the Afghan soil for the first time. I have traveled thousands of miles but never to our neighboring countries.

The same land, the same earth, they had just reaped their wheat crops, like we did in Pakistan. Don’t know why I didn’t get a chance to visit India yet? Of course, it’s a vast country with so much to explore and watch.
The acts and movements of troops were a treat to watch and admire. The whole crowd heaving with joy and excitement. The wrapping up of the flags for the night was another feat with turns, twists and actions. They brought down both the flags –Pakistani and Indian–down and hold them in mid of the way with great honor and regard, folding them artistically.All the time I was busy taking pictures and enjoying every moment of it. All of a sudden the time was over for this entire hustle bustle, weird sounds, announcements, chanting slogans and the gates were closed.

The lady from Pakistan Punjab Rangers accompanying us gave us a tour of the surrounding area, the map of Pakistan, the miniatures with all the land marks. The barbed wire that divides the two countries stood firm. Two of the soldiers on both sides riding horses were ready for a photo op. She told us that this is the crossing for Dosti bus service between India and Pakistan. The trading trucks unburden their luggage at a big custom ground, that is brought by Pakistani trucks and trailers and same is done with Indian trucks.
We both are sovereign, dignified nations and we should remain like this. Respecting and valuing each other’s sovereignty and no more interference, terrorism and no more wars please!The world has gone so old now; hence we should learn living like peaceful and friendly neighbors–respecting and valuing each other.

Abida-Rahmani*Abida Rahmani is a Toronto-based Pakistani Canadian writer

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