While we were in Punjab, our group went to the Wagah Border between India and Pakistan. Every evening, there is a border closing ceremony there. During my past visits to India, I saw little evidence of any national pride. The closest I had come to seeing patriotism was when I asked my friend what colors were on the Indian flag, “The colors are green, white, and saffron!” I guess I just assumed that patriotism was non-existent here, but at the border, I finally saw an Indian display of national pride.
Honestly, the border was a little overwhelming for me. The crowd was enormous, and the security made the TSA look like a bunch of mall cops. I think I had to show my passport three times before they decided that I wasn’t a threat to national security. Once we were seated, however, I began to appreciate the place. There I was, stuffed between two of my friends, sitting on the curb with an Indian police officer pacing, waving, and blowing his whistle right above me, and as I looked at the crowd, I saw the pride on their faces. Hundreds of people came that evening to see this, and I was right on the curb—I could see everything! There was music playing and the women were dancing. People were running the length of the road in pairs carrying large flags and beaming. It was sweltering and crowded, but the Indian people were glad to be there. Someone shouted “Hindustan!” and the whole crowd echoed it back. Again and again, “Hindustan! Hindustan! Hindustan!” They were shouting the name of their country in Hindi, not English.
The ceremony itself is quite choreographed. In small groups, soldiers marched—stomped—to the gate and kicked their legs so high that their feet touched their hats. They would take off marching as fast as they could to the gate, then stand in formation. It was obvious that the soldiers of the two countries were competing the whole time. Although these men have been doing the same ceremony each night for years, some of the men looked tense and nervous. It was clear that they would rather spend a night in Pakistan than make a mistake.
During the final moments of the closing ceremony, both gates were opened, and amid much marching and kicking, the soldiers of India and Pakistan got into formation to lower their flags. It was in this moment that I saw the pride of India. The man in front of me saluted; the crowd cheered; every eye was glued to that green, white, and saffron flag. I knew that I could only be an observer in this moment, for it belonged to the Indians. It belonged to the people of Hindustan.