Friday, March 25, 2011


As the sun takes its last bow for the day, the joint checkpost at Wagah-the only road link between India and Pakistan-turns into a port of high-voltage patriotic fervour. The checkpost, roughly 23 km from Amritsar, comes alive with the beating retreat-a carefully choreographed drill by India's Border Security Force (BSF) on one side and the Pakistan Rangers on the other to mark the lowering of their national flags. The ceremony, since Partition, has over the years turned ostensibly hostile. A kilometre short of Wagah, roadside hawkers sell small national flags and sunshades in tricolour to the crowds heading for the visitors' gallery to watch the spectacle.IT IS FROM 6:15 AM TO 6:30 AM.

When it's time, a battery of high-megawatt speakers facing the Pakistan side blare out patriotic film songs. And then amid loud cheers of "Hindustan Zindabad" and "Vande Mataram", the BSF personnel, matched in ferocity by the Rangers, march menacingly towards each other stomping feet high and hard on the road. The cacophony on the Indian side is matched in volume and spirit on the Pakistani side. The iron gates are shut for the night. But soon after the ceremony, called "Victory Parade", the crowds surge near the zero line smiling, waving and clicking pictures. The loud patriotic rivalry melts away, making Wagah a port of silent cross-border bonhomie.
This carefully choreographed display of hostility takes place every evening at a flag-lowering ceremony on both sides of the rivals' only border crossing.Loudspeakers blare out patriotic Indian songs and soon the crowds at the Wagah border crossing, 500 km northwest of New Delhi, begin to chant.

"Hail mother India!" is the cry from 8,000 Indians in a grandstand built beside the border gate, set amid green wheat fields. "We salute you mother!" they roar.

"Long live Pakistan!" several thousand Pakistanis shout back from the other side of tall iron gates guarded by soldiers with assault rifles. "God is greatest."


Groups of Indian school girls break into dance in the stands and in the middle of the road as the music switches to a 1960s patriotic Bollywood song set to a modern tune.

Suddenly, a turbaned Sikh waving a large Indian flag charges towards the border gate, cheered on loudly by the thousands on the Indian side who have come to witness the daily spectacle, as if he was set to plant the flag on enemy territory.

"We have to tell them that our flag flies higher than theirs," said the man, Tejinder Singh, a trader from the nearby city of Jalandhar."We have to live in peace but I don't think that side wants peace,"

The Pakistani crowd is not to be outdone. A young bearded man, wearing a Muslim prayer cap, runs towards the Indian side waving the green national flag.

"Pakistan, Pakistan, Pakistan," the crowd roars.

The chanting reaches a crescendo as border guards dressed in ceremonial uniforms with tufted headgear begin a goose-step march to lower flags at the gate, stomping their boots with enough force to kick up dust on the asphalted road.

"The line between tourism and nationalism does not exist here," says a senior Indian officer.
"Military tensions are down and the soldiers are relaxed but it doesn't matter to the public. They get very excited."