Changing the guard, india, pakistan.


The power to say yes to most things opens up a wonder of opportunities. It is a power to resist the easy option of saying NO which keeps us safe and away from the unknown. Playing close to the edge with the flames of uncertainty, teases resistance, pulling it like elastic until it gives way and sends you hurtling once again towards an unexpected experience. You jump in with both feet, saying yes anyhow.

‘Would you like to go to the Pakistani border at Wagah?’ Sumit had asked. I had no idea why we should go there but I said yes and before I could ask why, he had booked a taxi for us to share.

I was aware that there were problems between India and Pakistan dating back to when the British were involved and the two countries were divided in 1947. The tension between Muslims and Hindus unfortunately remain. They are after all still Indians and it is a shame that religion divides them.  So why are we hurtling off to the border?

It seems that the ceremony of the Changing of the Guard, which happens twice a day is quite a spectacle and something Sumit has always wanted to see. I tagged along asking the odd question, completely oblivious to what waits ahead.

The journey takes us a couple of hours. In my head, I am picturing dessert and roadblocks, I have watched too many movies. We drive past one or two military bases as we are nearing the border. Our driver pulls into a large busy car park and says he cannot get us any closer. From here we have to join part of a moving crowd of people walking towards an entrance. We have to hurry, apparently, it starts in five minutes and we need to get a seat.

This is not my impression of a border crossing, as we join a queue we have to show identity and I still have no idea what to expect. It is beginning to feel like I am being ushered into an attraction at Disney. People everywhere have that excited look on their faces. The soldier at the gate looks about 8 ft. tall as he checks passes, towering over the enthusiastic teenager’s eager to get in to find free seats.  Because I am a foreigner we are guided to seats at the far end of what I can only describe as a stadium, there is no football field, but an area the width of a road which leads towards an ornate set of gates. On the other side is Pakistan and another stadium. It looks a little smaller than the one I am sitting in, apparently, India likes to show it is bigger, even the flag pole has to be higher. I sense there is about to be a show of strength. The biggest and mightiest, machoism in all its glory.

The music reminds me of a Hollywood film, Ben Hur or some other blockbuster, music to let you know something great is about to happen. People are piling into the stadium. There is a woman soldier, clad in her camouflaged uniform with a beret, her face locked without a smile, she blows her whistle and waves a gesture to people instructing them to remain seated. There are Indians selling flags and the usual drink and sweets sellers strutting up and down and calling out. I am beginning to understand. The changing of the guard is a spectacle but this is nothing like the one you see at Buckingham Palace, even that is a lot of pomp and circumstance for something as simple as changing a shift, this ceremony is beginning to resemble a rock concert, I am half expecting the Stones to appear on the huge digital screen facing us. To my left I look up to the words printed on a banner which says India’s First Line of Defence.  Borders, like huge walls, divide us, rich and poor, strong and weak. Symbolic for showing power, Borders say, ‘Keep Out, you cannot come in.’ Tempting to invaders and conquerors and yet life-saving to refugees and people fleeing war and destruction.  people get caught up in nationalism, they will even purchase a flag for it especially when they can wave it to music. Eddie Izzard was correct, when he said, if you need to Invade a country, you must have a flag.

My mood lifts in the absurdity of a military spectacle. Another camouflaged soldier clutching a microphone is in clear view and audibly not hidden, he is encouraging the crowds on either side to make a noise. He is like a compere in a concert, warming up the crowd. The music is hotting up and all the ladies are invited to come forward and dance in the middle. I am thinking Bollywood, I find myself bouncing in my seat and clapping my hands. ‘Oh yeh!, let this show begin.’

Soldiers start to appear in ceremonial dress and it is hard not to be caught up in the cheering. For the next hour, we witness a show of military performance that kept me on a high. This is not even my country but I have a fondness for India that overwhelms me at times. 

I am still sad about borders though. In my perfect world, there would be none and we could all freely move about as we wish. These two nations were born out of one country and religious unrest. I do not want to get into politics here but I was told at the border, both sides have the same traditions and speak the same language. The wall is there for protection from fanatics and terrorists. Actually, there is probably a lot more but it has created a place to have a good get together, lift the mood and show some military strength.

I loved the bit at the end where two soldiers from opposite sides, marched towards each other and shook hands.  That action said so much more to me. I was glad I said Yes. It is one more experience I can say I have under my belt and also reconfirms my thoughts on borders.

As the EU writes the restrictions I will soon have to face at its borders because of Brexit, I am saddened. We take a step backwards when we should be moving forward. Humanity is gifted, we do have the power to say yes if we want to progress. The unknown is exciting, cultures can work together, we all want the same thing.  Can’t we at least believe in what is possible? I will jump up and down waving a flag if you want. Mine is blue with golden stars. I wish I could say you are welcome anytime. One day maybe.

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