I'm starting this blog today, and no better way to inaugurate it than with the combined India-Pakistan circus called "Flag-Lowering Ceremony" at Wagah!
I read this PTI report from Atari the other day about how the guards on the Pakistan side had gone back to their aggressive postures and gestures, so the Indian side also decided, no doubt with a heavy heart, that they would also revert back to their aggressive ways.
The first time I saw this drama, way back in 2006 -- by the way, I have only ever seen it from the Pakistani side -- I came back really angry and wrote something about how horrible it was to put up something that openly encourages hostility. It was two days after the Indian side had decided that the BSF jawans would not goose-step as high as they used to. In Pakistan, they said they would not make any changes.
Going by the PTI report, it seems that both sides had modified their actions somewhat, though I never noticed any major changes in the several times I've seen it since then. But I have to say that I look at the whole show slightly differently now I'm convinced it's all a put-on tamasha, choreographed jointly by the Rangers and the BSF to the last detail. It's what they call nura kushti in Urdu -- fraud wrestling. Plus imagine, if they were to stop doing it, it would be a real dhakka to the fragile economies of Atari and Wagah. The one time I crossed into India by foot, I saw guys selling VCDs of the ceremony in Atari, just beyond the gates. A whole row of restuarants have come up to service the hundreds who come every day to watch the ceremony. There's an entire lot of taxi and bus drivers making money out of ferrying people to the thing. On the Pakistan side too, Wagah that is, I'm happy to report the taxis are doing well, so are the food and drink stalls, and it's only a matter of time before they start doing the CDs as well. The whole thing is a real picnic.
Yes, it still encourages us think we are enemies locked in mortal combat and appeals to some deep down tribal instinct, but the number of people who flock to the gates on either side and wave to each other after the circus ends, shows that lots of folks know to differentiate between real wresting and nura kushti. So let the people enjaaaai, as they say.
But if there's one real reason to stop this ceremony, it's the stress fractures that it must be causing in all those poor goose-stepping guards. I've seen it up close so I know that when a guard brings down his foot with that thundering explosive sound, you can see things rearranging themselves all the way up, on his face. I'm sure their jaws must be getting dislocated routinely. What shape their knees must be in, I hate to think. I wonder if these guys get good medical attention, especially the ortho kind. And they'll all need knee replacements soon. At least they should rotate them every six weeks. But I guess that's difficult, because these chaps are like actors doing well-rehearsed parts. There's one guy on the Pakistani side who does an imitation of an angry rooster, puffing out his chest fiercely shaking his head in a way that the fan of his black turban shakes exactly like it's in a cockfight. He's been there forever, well, at least since 2006. It's a hard act to follow, that's why he'll never be transferred out.