The Wagah Border Ceremony is an experience that every Indian would enjoy witnessing – it is a Flag Lowering Ceremony conducted each day at sunset at this point on the border between India and Pakistan. It is full of pomp and circumstance and it engenders feelings of national pride in all who watch it. The cricket stadium-like atmosphere there means that spectators have a fun, entertaining and memorable experience there.
In many ways, my Wagah Border experience was reflective of the overall Indian experience –of some things that we can be justly proud of as a nation and a society; but also reflective of some of the profoundly unattractive qualities that we Indians possess as a nation:
Wagah Border – The Good
It was carnival atmosphere at the Wagah Border – cars and buses loaded with people arrived there on a bitingly cold December evening cheerfully ignoring the tiny drizzle, not allowing it to dampen the spirit. There were importunate face painters demanding that spectators get their faces painted with the tricolour, hawkers selling CDs and postcards of the ceremony; people were streaming in by the hundred, waving flags – big and small; everyone seemed to be in a good mood.
Stirring desh-bhakti songs from Hindi films blared a thumping beat from loud speakers at the venue – similar songs were presumably being played on the other side of the steel gates in Pakistan – but ours seemed louder and better, somehow. Women of all ages were found dancing to the songs (men weren’t allowed) and shouts of “Jai Hind” were booming everywhere.
The parade itself was wonderful – the crisp uniforms of our men and women in uniform (there were no women soldiers on the other side, we smugly noted) – the highly vigorous marching, the flashing eyes, the clanging loudly of the gates – it was all very theatrical and terrifically enjoyable. It was fun to see which side could shout their respective national slogans louder and who had the most flags. The solemnity of the actual flag lowering ceremony was stirring and touching, making one feel a deep sense of belonging and pride in this great country of ours.
Wagah Border – The Bad
The fact that only women were allowed to dance here was interesting. While the ostensible reason for this was to prevent overcrowding; the other, more likely reason behind it was rather a poor reflection on Indian men – that they still cannot be trusted to be in close proximity with women and behave themselves.
Given the huge volume of people present at the venue (far, far more than the number in the picture); inevitably all public spaces in are overcrowded in our country and the I-must-get-there-first-and-I-must-get-the-best-view attitude was much in evidence. Our absence of regard for others and our general indiscipline and unruliness was alas, plain to see. The people in the front stood up to get a better view and to get pictures from a better angle.
This prevented people in the back from getting any kind of view and soon the entire stands were a seething mass of unruly people standing on their tiptoes, trying to get a look any which way. If the spectators had shown some self regulation and acknowledged that others have come here for the same reason as themselves, we could all perhaps have viewed the ceremony adequately and comfortably. As it was we were all craning our necks and were barely able to see the parade at all.
Wagah Border – The Ugly
Another extremely unattractive aspect of us Indians was on show at Wagah Border the other day – our deep seated racism. There was a section of the spectator stand devoted to foreign guests, some Americans and Europeans as well as some guests from Asia and Africa.
The American and European guests (read white-Caucasian) were subject to avid and obvious interest. People wanted to chat with them, wanted them to pose for photos with them and subjected them to curious questions and fawning attention. This reaction of people is so in keeping with our continuing fascination and preoccupation with white skin. Those who seemed to be from the Gulf or other parts of Asia were summarily ignored.
It was the African guests who came in for the worst treatment: we heard shouts of “Abe Kalu, sit down”, “O Negro, baith ja be” followed by titters suggesting that the speakers thought themselves funny for saying these derogatory words. The strange thing is, that most Indians don’t acknowledge our deep rooted racism. After all we’re brown ourselves, so how can we be racist, is the attitude. But racist we are; lamentably so. This behavior of our people at Wagah Border made this an undeniable fact – there was interests and respect for the whites; indifference and contempt for our darker skinned guests.
So my experiences at Wagah Border were reflective of much that is good and bad in our society; the parade that day was in a sense the microcosm of Indian society itself; our positive and negative traits; our pride and our prejudice.
By – Reena Daruwalla
Images – Courtesy Wikipedia The Wagah Border Ceremony