Wagah Border: An Ode to Friendship

An odd combination one would think: Border and Friendship. Borders itself have come to symbolise alienation, territorialism and identity. As if humans were born within borders. We may now, but as origin of species we were but one. The land one big mass. But today we are nothing if not divided, or defined by the borders we live in.

Anyway. This year I have been on a sabbatical. And the various travels posted have been my journeys of a time well spent with new co-travellers: friends and family.

In the middle of December, three of us school friends decided to hit off to Amritsar, famous for its food and phulkari work. However, we also wanted to see the Wagah border retreat which in recent years has become quite popular.

I say recent, cause 15 years back when I had witnessed the same, as a young school girl, there were hardly a bunch of us. But now there is a stadium built to accommodate the bulky crowd, which I think needs a special task force all of its own!

Imagine hordes of people marching towards the Indo-Pak border. The security check was intensive. A large LCD had been set up so that people who could not make it to the stands can watch the proceedings, and there were many of us. The Army officers, polite but firm, were having a hard time controlling the crowd. But it was great to watch them manage the show.

The retreat began accompanied with hoots and cheers from crowds on both the sides. The patriotism, the soldiers, the charged atmosphere, the beats, women soldiers marching smartly, everything was out of this world.

But most exciting was being able to see across. People from another country, just sitting on the steps like we were. Hooting for their country. It was like being in a football match with each side cheering their own. It was fascinating to watch the retreat. We friends were discussing how since they have been doing this for ages together, the soldiers must be friends. And then a thought came to me unbidden, if they are friends, how do they fight each other in war, wouldn’t it be impossible?

Anyway we got an opportunity to go close to the border. The other side was . . . just like us. They didn’t feel foreign. A small girl shouted a big hello and waved. We looked up grinning but both sides kept going  not exchanging any words. As we stood there hearing the history, of how there is a no mans land and the barbed wire. I felt a pang of sadness. We are all one, as a nation we were all one once. My friend asked a soldier if they have become friends now? and he looked at us incredulously saying how can that be? We came back sad. Sad because, as common citizens that small child’s hello, who is the future of that country, expressed the desire to be friends. Sad because, citizens here, us could smile at them across and see human beings just like us. All around you can see greenery and the Pakistan side had a beautiful park.

But an ideal, the politics, and many forces divide us.

The significance of the retreat is that we have ended another day in peace. Even as I go back to that day and I remember that moment and us, all I can think is, hope one day the power of shared humanity will be more than the power of the divisive forces. Today, both countries are about to restart their friendly relation efforts. As citizens I am confident both sides would hope this time we will succeed and that one day India-Pakistan will be known for their friendship, even if today that is a distant dream.



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