I’m writing to you from the cavernous insides of the Golden Temple complex in Amristar, Punjab. A pilgrimage site for Sikh’s, it is beautiful. A vast square, mirror like pool in its midst, a walkway beset in white marble, crowned on four sides with striking gates, and scores walking barefoot, around and around. In the middle of it all, a golden temple, reflecting itself in the eyes of the head covered seekers and, of course, the water.
From here its about a half hours journey in a gutted out Tata white minivan to Pakistan, via the Wagah border. I was there yesterday, along with thousands of other Indian’s, Pakistanis, and foreigners. We all gathered to bear witness to the famed flag ceremony, where Indian border security and Pakistanis border security posture for the masses, as they take down their respective flags for the day.
Soldiers on both sides, tall, strapping, dressed to the nines. India a military green, red accents, gleaming chaps, a champions belt and plume stiff gorgeous. Pakistan a black flowing kurtha, all black, head to toe, even their plumes, had inches on India’s, mercenaries, desert riders, extra flair, head snaps, plumes this way and that.
Chango dances like this.
Heads kicked high, rooster crow cry, plumes, exhume the truth of the matter is that we are brothers and sisters, both sides. Both sides chanting, Pakistan-Zindabad!, India-Zindabad!, music blasting over carnival in Brazil on the street in heat sized speakers. National fever pitched, sold, and bought, at bargain basement prices. Rooting for our side. Is harder. When it comes to white people and their companies. Easier like this. Amongst immediate family.
At the Wagha border it is gladiator like stadiums on both sides, two gates inches apart one painted with green and white, crescent moon so bright, the other an orange, white, green, wheel. There is a VIP section reserved for important Indian folks and foreigners. The VIP section is closer to the action, cordoned off by baby blue rope, less crowded, less policed. At this junction there are at least three borders in visible operation. The border between Pakistan and India. The border between nationals and foreigners. The border between men and women. And maybe a fourth. A border between the fervent nationalists and the nation-state questioning.
Us vs. Them. Us is. Them.
Looked up from the breath defying guard, who called out positions in long, classical notes, vying for sound space with a man in the crowd who wanted to do exactly what you do, when you call this way, the soldiers respond. When you call this way, the crowd cheers. When you call this way, Pakistan’s soldiers can hear.
Looked up from the breath defying guard into the sky was a plush clouded blue, ever dimming at this sunset flag ceremony, and the birds were laughing above us. Flying free over these arbitrary lines. Natural plumes cut speed through the air up there looked good. Looked free.
Would the British love to see this? The fierce posturing, the rivalry, the chants. Perhaps not, maybe its not bloody enough for the divide and conquer post-partition eyes that watch and steer and guide, for this, Gandhi Ji died. Or maybe there’s plenty of blood, and the wounds are all inside, perception, media, politics, games, influence, propaganda, the people’s plight stays the same. Is this how it was the day Bhutto was assassinated? Or was there, please god, more diplomacy in the air?
What are we watching at this border ceremony?
The truth. About something.
Stay tuned for more, as your favorite political poet keeps her solo journey going through India along the border of Pakistan.