‘If you get sucked into the hysteria, you feel like you have had a good fight’

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Trideep Pais is a 37-year-old lawyer who lives in Gurgaon and practices law in Delhi

Illustration : Uzma Mohsin

THE THESAURUS defines jingoism as excessive support for one’s country. For the uninitiated, a practical class in jingoism could be the change of guards at the Wagah border. There are two gates. One, painted in the tricolour, says “India”. Barely five feet away is the other which is green and says “Pakistan”. Both are shut, with the respective flags flying over them. The 45-minute-long ceremony is meant to be the actual change of guards on duty — opening the gate, shaking hands with those on the other side and folding and putting away their respective flags for the day.

On both sides, each evening, crowds converge to watch this. Both sides have amphitheatres with a view of the gates. With VIP seats right in front, we were just a few feet away from Pakistan. Delayed on account of a deservedly long visit to the Darbar Sahib, we were hurriedly ushered to the very best seats just as the ceremony was about to start. In the midst of the high pitched and simultaneous shouts of “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”, “Inquilab Zindabad” and “Vande Mataram”, I was trying to absorb the sights. Imagine 2,000 people screaming all of the above in a chorus for no apparent reason! The man on the mike, possibly from the BSF, would shout “Vande” in a hysterically shrill voice and the crowd would respond “Mataram” with the same hysteria. Sarhad paar resounded with screams of “Pakistan Zindabad” and “Allah Hoo”,etc.

The crowds, I was told, were as large on both sides every day of the week irrespective of weather or season.

Parallels for crowd reaction would be the intermittent shouts and cheers at a shot or a wicket during a cricket match or a comedy show, say, when Russell Peters cracks a juicy racist joke. Except that at Wagah, there is no such evident cause for cheering. Besides, the crowd on each side of the border was clearly primed to shout on cue. While fathers, mothers, children, uncles, aunties and grandparents obediently scream for the sake of orchestrated patriotism, it’s business as usual for hawkers selling postcards, national flags and emblems.

The BSF guards do an elaborate drill, some walk so menacingly that their knees touch their faces and then when they thump their feet on the ground one worries if their knees will function the next day if it weren’t for special shoes provided to ward off that eventuality! The menace in the stance is in direct proportion to the decibel level of the crowd.

There is nothing peaceful or friendly about the ceremony at Wagah — it is the Mecca of jingoism

Curious to see what’s on the other side, I impatiently waited for the gates to be opened. There wasn’t much difference; people looked like us and were just as hysterical, though fewer in number. From our VIP seats we had a clear view of our counterparts across the border. I noticed amid the din, a quiet bunch of boys, clearly upper class with branded clothes and digital cameras. Perhaps non-resident Pakistanis, accompanied by a very distinguished looking gentleman. As he sat down he waved out to the Indian side in a friendly manner. No one else reacted but I waved back. And that was it, the BSF guy was on me! “Unse ishare karna mana hai”. “Says who?” I wanted to ask. The first and only correct ingredient thrown into the Indo-Pak Wagah soup was that friendly exchange and it upset the BSF. I kept my trap shut and the circus of the absurd continued. The BSF guard and the Pakistani ranger mirror each other’s aggression in every move, gesture and expression. They lift clenched fists up in the air, indicating, as it were, a show of might. Ironically, there is nothing national about the clothes or the music of the bugle (which is distinctly British). Apparently the ceremony was started in 1971, ostensibly as a friendly feature, but it seems anything but that.

There is nothing in the least bit peaceful or friendly about the ceremony at Wagah — it is the Mecca of jingoism. In fact if you get sucked into the hysteria then I’m sure you’ll come away feeling like you just had a good fight with the enemy.

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