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Stepping Across the Line at Wagah Border


Mohsin Raza/Reuters A Pakistani bus crossing into India at the Wagah joint border crossing near Lahore on Jan. 20, 200 .

!he "ast ti#e I crossed the India$Pakistan border %as in Januar&. 'rossing the border on (oot has a strange %a& o( de(&ing the recei)ed %isdo# about border crossings, and indeed about India and Pakistan. !ra)e"ers %ith )isas and the re*uisite c"earances can %a"k across the border +ost at Wagah in the northern state o( Punjab unti" about ,-,0 or . in the a(ternoon. A(ter the i##igration counters c"ose, the border +ost at Wagah turns into a site (or unabashed chau)inis# as the gates are c"osed bet%een the t%o countries. /n a Januar& a(ternoon, a(ter attending a "iterar& (esti)a" in Lahore, Pakistan, the Indian no)e"ist Jeet !ha&i" and I s+ed through Lahore in t%o se+arate cars, tr&ing to #ake it to the Wagah border in ti#e to %a"k back to India. As %e dro)e to Wagah, our tires screeching, so"diers, rangers, chickens ju#+ed out o( the %a&, +erha+s recognizing the urgenc& o( our #ission. We ro""ed do%n our %indo%s and sought directions, as %e %ere ho+e"ess"& "ost. 0India12 strangers shouted. 0!hat %a&32 !he& "ooked at their %atches. 04urr&3 /n"& 20 #inutes "e(t32 /n the Indian side, %e had t%o ta5is %aiting to (err& us to the A#ritsar air+ort to catch our ("ights to 6e"hi. Mr. !ha&i" #ade it through %ith #inutes to s+are. I didn7t. As I %a"ked into the i##igration co#+"e5 at Wagah, the Pakistani )isa o((icer stro""ed out, carr&ing a cu+ o( tea. 0Mada#3 Mada#3 8)er&thing is no% c"osed. I7)e just shut do%n the co#+uter,2 he gent"& ad#onished #e. 0I to"d &ou the other da&, did I not, that &ou #ust be back here be(ore ,-,0. It is a *uarter to (our no%. And "ook, &our (riend has gone,2 he said as he +ointed to%ard Mr. !ha&i"7s retreating (igure in the distance. 09o% go back,2 he said, 0and enjo& our Lahore (or another da&.2 I took his ad)ice.

When I returned to the border +ost the ne5t #orning, the )isa o((icer greeted #e "ike a "ong$"ost (riend. 0:o, Mada#,2 he said, 0&ou decided to "ea)e our countr& then1 6id %e not #ake &ou (ee" %e"co#e12 !his "ight$hearted banter %asn7t reser)ed (or #e; the hand(u" o( other border$crossers %ere treated si#i"ar"&. 'asua" con)ersation, cu+s o( tea, a stor& here or there %hi"e &our +a+ers %ere being dea"t %ith, and then &ou %ere %a)ed through. 9or %as it an& di((erent on the Indian side- returning Indians %ere greeted "ike "ong$"ost (riends, %e"co#ed ho#e, gi)en ad)ice about %here their ce""+hones %ou"d %ork best, o((ered tea, to"d to re"a5 %hi"e their +ass+orts %ere sta#+ed. It %as hard to be"ie)e that e)er& e)ening, the border +ost at Wagah trans(or#ed itse"( into a theater %here India and Pakistan rehearsed their chau)inistic hatred (or each other. !a"", uni(or#ed Indian and Pakistani so"diers ha)e been carr&ing out the choreogra+hed routine o( the border$c"osing cere#on& since <=>=. ?nti" 20 &ears ago, it %as re"ati)e"& *uieter and attracted audiences o( so#e <00 or so +eo+"e, but no% it is a (u""$("edged #ass +er(or#ance, +"a&ed to a ga""er& o( se)era" thousand e)er& e)ening, as Indian so"diers and Pakistani rangers co#+ete in goose$ste++ing and a #ajor do#o on either side e5horts +eo+"e to shout +atriotic s"ogans, %hi"e @o""&%ood #usic b"ares in the background. !he %ho"e +er(or#ance is "ike %ar A e5ce+t that it7s (ought %ith %ords and gestures rather than %ea+ons.

4a#za Ah#ed/Associated Press Pakistani troo+s, right, gi)ing s%eets to their Indian counter+arts on the occasion o( Pakistan7s Inde+endence 6a& at the Wagah border +ost on Wednesda&.

@orders can so#eti#es re("ect the rea"it& o( the countries that "ie %ithin the#. Bor India and Pakistan, the "and border at Wagah re("ects both the con(usion that "ies at the heart o( our current rea"ities and the histor& that ga)e rise to the#. !he re"ationshi+ bet%een India and Pakistan is #ade u+ o( "o)e and hate, and a (air do""o+ o( con(usion. !he "o)e co#es (ro# #e#ories o( a +ast in %hich #uch %as shared, and as %ith a"" stories o( "o)e, it tends to g"oss o)er the bad and +ri)i"ege the good. In India and Pakistan, the nosta"gia (or ho#es "e(t behind, (riends "ost, ties irretrie)ab"& cut because o( the rigid borders, a cu"ture that %as shared and rich and so #uch #ore, is i##ense. !he desire to 0return2 to seek out ho#es, (riends, (ood, #usic is a constant, and there are an& nu#ber o( stories that describe ho% the

intractab"e borders bet%een the t%o countries can indeed be crossed, %hether it is through cricket, or #usic, or "iterature or just the ordinar& #o)e#ent o( +eo+"e crossing o)er. !he hate co#es (ro# both sus+icion and genuine e5+eriences o( )io"ence- #i""ions o( Indians and Pakistanis, %ho ha)e "i)ed through the )io"ence o( the Partition carr& in their hearts a terrib"e hurt and o(ten a dee+ hatred (or its +er+etrators. :uch %ounds are not easi"& hea"ed. India and Pakistan ha)e %orked hard to +retend that the bitter histor& o( the Partition is no% o)er. And the %ounds and the "egac& o( the Partition are di((icu"t to ta"k about. !he hate is he"+ed a"ong b& the continuing rhetoric o( en#it&, betra&a", and sus+icion that the t%o countries rehearse against each other. !he border c"osing cere#on& at Wagah acts out the rhetoric o( hate. !he con(usion co#es (ro# being caught bet%een these t%o. India and Pakistan are #ore than si5 and a ha"( decades o"d. 'an the t%o countries continue hating each other1 /n %hat basis1 !here %as a ti#e, not so "ong ago, %hen the te""ing and rete""ing o( stories %ithin (a#i"ies %ho had "i)ed through the Partition o( India, ke+t its #an& hidden histories a"i)e. @ut no%, %ith #ost o( the actors o( that histor& ha)ing gone, those stories too ha)e gradua""& begun to disa++ear.

Margaret @ourke$White/Bro# the book C!rain to Pakistan7 b& Dhush%ant :ingh Re(ugees in cara)ans and bu""ock carts during the India$Pakistan +artition o( <=.E.

Bor those born a(ter the Partition, the nosta"gia, the "onging, the connection %ith ho#es e"se%here ha)e "itt"e #eaning. !here %as a ti#e %hen not kno%ing a""o%ed Indians and Pakistanis to i#agine each other as #onsters and ene#ies read& to s%a""o% us u+. @ut the internet has +ut +aid to a"" o( that. !he constant #o)e#ent o( +eo+"e across borders and the rejection o( (unda#enta"ist ideo"ogies b& +eo+"e in both countries has begun to change that +icture. What then are India and Pakistan (ighting about1 It is hard to sa&. @ut %hat is true is that the %or"d toda& is #uch #ore co#+"icated than it %as si5 decades ear"ier. India and Pakistan ha)e no% beco#e ("ash+oint countries that +ro)ide the batt"eground (or so #uch that in)o")es the West, +articu"ar"& the so$ca""ed %ar on terror, the gro%th o( the !a"iban, the *uestion o( A(ghanistan. And that is bound to ha)e its i#+act on %hat goes on in both our countries A

gro%ing incidents o( terrib"e )io"ence %here e)er&one sus+ects the in)o")e#ent o( the other, targeting o( innocent +eo+"e si#+"& because the& be"ong to the Cother7 re"igious grou+, the gro%ing, and increasing"& tragic co#+"ications in Dash#ir, the incidents o( a#bushes and rando# (iring at unnecessar& deaths at the border A a"" o( these ha)e no% beco#e +art o( our dai"& rea"ities. In <=.E 4arkishan 6as @edi, a schoo"teacher in Lahore %ho "o)ed nothing #ore than his students and his books, %as (orced to "ea)e his ho#e and #o)e to India o)ernight. 4e "e(t behind his +a+ers, books, his #e#ories, e)er&thing. Mr. @edi sett"ed as a re(ugee in Ja"andhar in the northern Indian state o( Punjab. 4e %as des+erate to get his things back but unab"e to easi"& cross the border. Bina""&, Mr. @edi %rote a "etter to the +erson he thought #ust ha)e inherited his ho#e. 4e addressed the "etter to C!he /ccu+ant7 and %rote, 0 I %rite to &ou as a hu#an being. I ho+e &ou %i"" not be +ut o(( that a 4indu has %ritten to &ou. We are hu#an beings (irst and 4indu and Mus"i# on"& a(ter that. I (ir#"& be"ie)e &ou %i"" ob"ige #e b& ans%ering this "etter in the na#e o( the hu#an bond %e ha)e.2 Across the border, 'haudr& Lati(, a re(ugee (ro# India, %ho had #o)ed into @edi7s house in Lahore, had "e(t the +re)ious occu+ant7s things untouchedFas +eo+"e o(ten did in those ti#es. When Mr. Lati( recei)ed Mr. @edi7s "etter, he res+onded, co""ected Mr. @edi7s things and #anaged to get the# back to hi#. /)er the &ears, the t%o #en de)e"o+ed a (riendshi+ that a""o%ed the# to transcend the ad#inistrati)e borders bet%een India and Pakistan. Mr. @edi and Mr. Lati( ho+ed that one da& India and Pakistan %ou"d decide that (riendshi+, not en#it&, %as the %a& (or%ard, (or there %as so #uch to be gained (ro# that. !heir %isdo#, %hose truth is so se"( e)ident that it does not need to be reiterated, is sti"" to sink into the +s&che o( India and Pakistan and their go)ern#ents. !he da& it does, %e %i"" ha)e ho+e. Urvashi Butalia is the author of The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India !s Butalia runs "u#aan Boo$s% a feminist &u#lishin' house% #ased in (e) *elhi
(Source: New York Times India Blog http: india!"logs!n#times!com 2$13 $% 1& stepping-across-the-line-at-wagah"order '(r)$* -