where india becomes hindustan

Out at the Wagah border, the only road crossing between India and Pakistan, you will find one of the more peculiar attractions of India. Everyday thousands gather on either side, in purpose built grandstands, to witness the flag lowering ceremony held at dusk. I’d always wanted to come here after watching a Foreign Correspondent report on the sheer oddness of the spectacle. I was a little disappointed to realise on arrival in Amritsar that trucking out to the border ranks with the Golden Temple as the “must do” of Punjab. You are never the trail blazer in India!

Arriving at the border felt like arriving at a footy final – a buzz in the air and thousands of local spectators pouring into the stands. Bollywood tunes and cricket anthems were blaring out of Maiden-sized stacks while women and children danced on the road, perhaps wiggling their hips provocatively at their supposedly more puritanical neighbors.

Plenty has been written on how the spectacle unfolds. A warm-up guy in civilian dress whips up the crowd with rhythmic clapping and cries of “Hindustan – zindabad (long live)!”. Gandhi-ji’s non-sectarian India is on hold out here. Young, very tall soldiers of the Indian Border Protection Force preen themselves with exaggerated movements before they speed-march off in a fury of high kicks and flared nostrils to stare down their Pakistani equivalents while slowly lowering the flag and bringing it to its nightly resting place.

On one hand, the ceremony has a sense of carnival, a theatre where even the locals chuckle at the silliness of it all. However in my view, beneath the pop music and impossibly long calls to “present arms” lurks the hysterical and bellicose nationalism that has dogged these two nations since the end of British India. I can’t but help think that this ceremony gives oxygen to an immensely damaging separation. The contrast with the ecumenical serenity of the Golden Temple could not be more stark.

We walked away not with the often quoted reference to Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks skit on our minds, but this simple thought: weren’t you once the same people?

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One Response to “where india becomes hindustan”

  1. Tom (late at night) Says:

    Of course, the ministry of silly walks is fairly pertinent, given that it is actually a comment on nationalism

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