Where can you go to see mile high fans of patriotism? Men who bellow at megaphone volume through cupped hands? Guards who have knee arthritis and hip problems from high kicks and platform boots?
The answer lies on the thin partitioning line that runs up the Punjab’s spine, separating India from Pakistan. This border, the Radcliffe Line, was named after the unfortunate fellow whose job it was to equitably divide 175,000 square miles of territory and the 88 million people who lived there. It was bloody business (think largest mass migration in recent history), with Muslims fleeing East, everything else heading West and religiously fueled conflict wherever the two met. And this wasn’t so long ago, Pakistan is still in it’s infancy, being born in 1947.
Partition was especially unfortunate for the Wagah village whose town center was suddenly severed in two. Imagine, one morning your house is in the Republic of India but your school is in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Tricky business this whole drawing lines on maps that move peoples homes, loyalties and citizenship’s.
But I digress…back to the high kicks and boot stomping. As you can imagine certain historical events manifested a ferocity of patriotism between Pakistan and India. It is demonstrated best in two arenas; cricket matches and the Wagah border. The later of the two (the Wagah border closing ceremony) happens every evening of every day at sundown. There is a flag raising, flag lowering, crowd chanting and a wonderfully aggressive stomping routine performed by the (tallest) border guards. The guards puff their chests like peacocks and kick the soles of their shoes towards India to show their general contempt. They perform stunning theatrics of hatred but their mock sternness is only a part of the show. The other part is the audience. Hundreds of people come every day bringing with them collective energy that rolls off bodies and tongues to saturate you with patriotic fever. Before I had even properly documented the event I found myself setting down my camera, picking up a flag, and exchanging my English words for a halting, Urdu “long live Pakistan!”.
The same routine is mirrored and reflected on the Indian side with twice as much cheering from their double the size crowd. It closes with a brief handshake and salute between the Indian and Pakistani generals before they lower the flags and close the gates. At this point I couldn’t help but feel that although the border closing ceremony is intended to “out-do” each other, these two old ‘enemies’ had shown an incredible amount of harmony and diplomacy.