A fanfare. A cheer.
Sitting on the rough concrete, inches from the road we gaze around us at the crowd encircling us, looking down from high above.
Patriots. Families. Schoolchildren. Military men and women. Indians. All castes and classes sit together, faces painted with flying Indian flags. All cheering their country.
And across the road, beyond the white, green and orange gate; past an imaginary line drawn on maps; and further beyond the black gate: Pakistan. Although a smaller crowd, the image is the same.
In reality, the Wagha border crossing is just a flag lowering exercise between two countries – two countries where tensions run high, who have fought many wars against each other and are both in possession of ’the bomb’! Yet it is so much more as well.
The aggression is palpable. The machoism boiling over. The chauvinism – whilst bordering on the camp – is turned to overdrive. The crowds love it and cheer all the louder.
Men in red fan hats glare down the long road at their ’enemies’ all dressed in black behind their gate. Moustaches waxed to perfection, it is less military men, more a convention of circus ringmasters.
They storm down the road in elongated strides; they high kick like martial art experts (one kicking so high, so hard, he almost knocks his hat off); they make staccato stomps, cracking their heels on the ground like gunfire. John Cleese, Ministry of Silly Walks: Stand aside!
After the glares and the marches come the huffs and puffs. Their thumbs upraised – another mark of aggression – they punch out towards their foes. But they never touch, no matter how much they may like to.
As the gates open and close and open and close – with a SLAM – the crowd roars and roars louder and LOUDER. They love it and don’t want it to end.
A ceremony that has been happening evening after evening, day after day, since 1959. It is an amazing spectacle and an incredible show of patriotism; however, behind the fun the serious and damaging effects of war linger. In this way it is a bittersweet show.