Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The India-Pakistan Circus At Wagah

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.


Anonymous said...

is about time that India and Pakistan should consider opening up Wagha border for purposes of travelling. The circus may continue as it remains one of the few tourist attractions for visitors to Lahore and Amritsar but the difficulties in travelling must be eased.

Im not talking about abolishing visa. Proper visas may be issued, even at the border. However, Lahorites or Amritsarites who desire to visit each others' cities should not be discouraged from taking this route. It will boost the economy of both countries and will help in improving relations as the citizens on both sides will learn that the other side is not as alien as he or she was made to believe.


sanjeev said...

likje so much else in the india=pakistan relationship, we have made theatre out of this too, the lone border crossing that we have. and do we have to mark the closing of gates in such fashion. how about the opening of the gates each morning ? surely thats an equally momentous ocassion especially when the walls between the two are so high and its so so difficult to get across them.

sks said...

after reading this vivid description, I am no longer feeling deprived that I haven't been to the border! i wish someday i could get to see lahore, where my mother grew up and my father studied ...
btw, i am a very new blogger too - and a slow one!

Enpee said...

It is indeed sad that you couldn't walk through wagah or even go close to it on foot. This is bureaucracy at its worst. But there are 1001 things that you can do and get away with in only in Pakistan! Any way I have a suggestion that I will follow up sports authorities in both India and Pakistan. Wagah Marathon! Starting from Lahore and finishing at Amritsar. May be than you can walk and cover the race -- or still better run. I am sure Pakistan Olympic Association President Lt Gen Arif Hasan and his Indian counterpart Suresh Kalmadi would agree. I know both gentlemen personally and would sure take it up.
In the meantime let me thank you for a wonderful trip down memory lane through your blog. I have been to Pakistan three times and enjoyed the visits. Hoping to see you in Islamabad one day! NORRIS PRITAM, NEW DELHI

Tall Stories said...

This is a very good idea enpee. You must work on it. Lahore-Wagah marathon -- i can just see the runners sprinting past the Lahore canal on a wintry sunday morning on their way to the border. Wow!!

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