“Mummy, how much will an auto take for Wagah?” Prasadda asked his mother.
I visited Amritsar for a day. We had already done Golden temple, Jalianwala Bagh and Chole-kulcha,Punjabi Lassi and Wagah border was the only tourist attraction left before I was on my way back to the capital.
“300 lagega.” Aunty told us.
“700 lagega”, autowalla told us.
Sheer mismatch in the quoted prices astonished us. We asked three more autowallas rates shuttled between 600 and 800. Prasadda’s American-accented Gurumukhi failed to impress Punjabi drivers. DSLR on my shoulder did little to hide our foreignness. Locals confused national with international. I empathised with every fleeced tourist after agreeing to pay 600/-.
“Blah blah blah this is company bagh. Huge from inside, and constructed during British Raj. Blah blah blah.” Autowale Sardar ji told us.
I resented the ever-growing Indian middle class, which lines up to own cars but forgets to learn civic sense. Milling crowd on the road appeared to contest for a Honking Competition. Incessant blowing of pressure-horns snatched my chance to gather stories from a bundle of local knowledge. But then noise didn’t deter Sardar ji in his self-assigned quest of enlightening us. His words, though dripping with wisdom, died down even before reaching our legs. I bent forward to attempt a rendezvous of his words with my ears. Sadly, partial and short-lived union didn’t bear any fruits.
“Blah blah filed a writ against the name ‘Wagah Border’. Wagah is a village in Pakistan. This side, it should be ‘Atari Border’”, Sardarji appeared offended at an incorrect nomenclature of his border.
“6-years back, when I came here, green fields surrounded this road. Now it doesn’t even feel that we left Amritsar.” Prasadda remarked on eternal presence of buildings and absence of green fields on both sides of road.
I anticipated an insurgence of patriotism as the border neared. Sign-boards indicated that we were closer to Lahore than Amritsar. But nothing happened. Like Prasadda said, it didn’t feel as if we had left Amritsar. How can one be patriotic inside a City?
Then I waited for ceremonies to start. I was sure yelling “Bharat Mata ki Jai”, “Hindustan Zindabad” and “Vande Matram” will boil my blood and make me swear at Pakistan. Hurling abuses at Pakis is the biggest proof of Indian Patriotism – thanks to Sunny Paaji, and his hand-pump scene in the very famous bollywood movie "Gadar"
“Good that you came on a Monday. No one should come here on Sunday. Arrrrrrreeeeeeeee people return just by looking at the crowd. Aaj kam bheed hogi.” Sardarji predicted.
Technically he wasn’t incorrect: we did reach inside, but desire to cuss Pakis from the front row remained unfulfilled. Instead, we found ourselves standing at the last row, light years away from the action. Songs followed soon. Remix version of “Ye desh hai veer jawanon ka” filled the air. Lata didi’s “Ae mere watan ke logon” arrived next. Either the DJ got bored of playing same songs or he confused massive Indian gathering with a Punjabi wedding. He queued up latest, not-so-patriotic songs. I don’t know how a “Koi kahe, keheta rahe” can generate patriotism in a by-default corrupt population.
My imagination and reality of Wagah border had as vast a gap as there is between Indian and Pakistani understanding on Kashmir issue.
I expected to see hordes of army men shielding us from wily terrorists. Not to be. The border was managed, and rightly so, by the Border Security Force. But merely 15-20 bored and indifferent BSF personnel guarded the security gate. Only one of them seemed enthusiastic. Sadly, the same guy frisked me. I am sure he liked men. I never felt so touched.
Women danced on the DJ’s songs. They were even invited to continue showcasing their talent on road in the middle. When their men folks proceeded towards the road, BSF soldiers pushed them back. Clearly, the road was meant only for soldiers and special citizens, whose gender indicated ‘F’. I still haven’t understood rationale behind female reservation in India.
An MC (not to be mixed up with desi swear word), attired in white t-shirt, white tracks and white sports shoes turned up with a mike to charge-up the already electrified atmosphere. I thought his oratory would shake my nationalism out of slumber. Sadly, love for the nation continued its comatose state. Stale slogans tickled a napping sumo. The sumo turned, and went on with his nap.
Strangely, the arena appeared unprotected. I expected tighter security arrangements. THE Wagah …err, Atari border deserved VIP status – after all the then PM, Mr. A B Vajpayee took Sada-e-Sarhad (literally “Call of the Frontier”) through that border only. But security matched that of Baroda Airport. Other than two jawans with big guns and black aviators – which they wore even after sunset – there was hardly any security. All other jawans busied themselves with managing the crowd. I believe both sides had agreed to respect each other’s sovereignty at Atari/Wagah at least. May be politicians could learn from their soldiers.
Collaboration from both sides surprised me the most. Officers from either side hollered commands, and marched. When one side showed-off their valour, other waited. The blustering parade continued in cycles.
MC strained hard to squeeze every drop of passion out of the audience. Crowd rose, and cheered their armed forces. Population on Indian side was so huge, that even a small percentage of audience replicated effect of an amphitheatre. Some had put national tri-colour on their faces. Others waved Indian flags. I am sure a Gujarati family had sneaked in more than encouraging their officers, they were busy consuming dhoklas.
Finally, as the sun decided to rest, iron gates were opened, and two flags lowered. A brusque handshake later, flags were folded. Closing of the gates indicated an end of the day’s ceremony. The same ceremony was to happen the next day, and subsequent days.