Tuesday, February 28, 2006

India - Pakistan Wagah Border ceremony

I got this video at Upright Videos. Boy! Do they have some cool collection?! Do listen to the BBC commmentary in the video. Funny that I should get this video now, when I just finished "Pundits From Pakistan" by Rahul Bhattarcharya. Rahul was touring with Indian cricket team to Pakistan in 2004 and he has captured his experiences in this book. But to say that this book is just about cricket is like saying Ramayana is about touring Sri Lanka. I can't say anything about the book which hasn't already been said. Just read it.

In the last chapter of the book, Rahul describes the Wagah border ceremony. While BBC commentary in the video describes it well, it lacks the subcontinental sentiments attached with the Wagah Border. Rahul taps it well. I'm producing excerpts from his book -
We found the spot on the sidelines. Chants rented the air. Pakistan Zindabad. Allah-hu-Akbar. A cheerleader who had almost knocked over Saad with his flag at the stadium was running up and down, waving his crescented cloth, urging masses on like the coach at tug-of-war.

Barely had we taken out spot than the crowds erupted into a delirious roar: a guard had begun marching towards a gate, some metres past the brick archway. Marching is a euphemism. He stomped so hard as if to create holes in the earth, a severely built man in immaculate uniform, a magnificent turban, boots of gleaming black, and wearing hate on his face as he had been told to. Even amid the chanting and hooting and clapping, the clamping down of the hobnailed boots could be made out.

The guard powered on till the gate, where he spread his hands like a performer, maintaining the hate on his face, and shaking his head vigiriusly in the manner one does after downing a Patiala Peg; high on induced hate. The hands were lowered to the sides in a series of theatrical gestures. Another guard followed, and another. Sometimes they went in tows and threes. As they reached the gate, one after the other, and played out their hate, the crowd was stirred to a frenzy. A depravity hung in the air.

A chronicle by a visiting westerner likend the ceremony to a European football game. This was ironic, instructive. Where Orwell had likened sport to war minus the shooting, here was wilfully calibrated war minus the shooting - shadow-boxing, in uniform, as the border - being likened to sport.

At last a pair of guards from either side shook hands, and the flags were gently lowered. This signified the closing of the border for the day. Both gates were slammed shut together, with immense force. There was a sudden, shocked silence, and in the silence of the moment, the metal rang in the ears. The silence continued for several seconds. The silence was a lot of things: a brief mourning, the acknowledgement of an attachment, of a shameful history; it was a symbolic reconciliation; I think it was, in large part, embarrassment at the preceding depravity.

Even now I shudder at the mesh of emotions at that scene at the border on March twenty-third. The faces of some wore a disturbed look. Some looked distraught. Some chanted. Some looked fragile, shattered, tears in eyes. Some looked plain entertained. Some, like Mr Ansari, were furious, furious with the jingoism the ceremony was designed to generate. Saad and I discussed things with passionate angst. It was a confusing time.
Highly recommended, the video and the book.


Ash said...

saw the video will pick up the book too ........
thanks Varun ...

i guess what is natural and sentimental to somebody is seen as factual to the rest ...happens with us tooo .......


Pankaj Jain said...

the histrionics are too good!! :) sure they have to shake their heads to clear up their brains after the mega-stomping acts. I hope they get good retiral benifits....wont be able to do much ... bones will give up.