Patriotism holds different meanings to each one of us.. even at different times within each of us…. And over these years independent India has definitely seen the changing hues…some bright and some dark… but has it lost the spark???
When anyone packs bags for their visit to Amritsar, Harpreet was the first one to get a ping on her mobile. “Hi, We are coming!” This phrase meant more than what it sounds like. The meaning often varied depending on how close they were. Friends? Relatives? Or acquaintances? Because the visit could transform from anything between fun to formality.
Harpreet Kaur was a soldier in the Border Security Force which was responsible for the famous Parade at the Wagah Border in Amritsar, Punjab. And her present posting at the same place , was the reason her phone mostly rang. Except one, that of Biji (referring to Mother in Punjabi language). Biji’s call involved queries related to having proper meals, safety, situation between the two countries vis a vis the requests by people to visit Golden Temple ( famous temple of Sikhs) , or witness the Wagah Parade. Calls for passes to see the parade might shadow that of well wishers in number but cannot weaken their blessings.
Wagah and Attari are the bordering villages between Indian and Pakistan, wherein Wagah is part of Pakistan and Attari is in India. The two nations are geographically connected here through railways as well as bus services, all taking place under the vigilant eyes of both nations. The parade conducted at Wagah between the border forces of the two nations, Border Security Force (BSF) of India and Pakistan Rangers is a melodramatic spectacle most sought after by the general public. ‘The Retreat‘ as it is referred to is a formal ceremony conducted by the parading contingent for lowering their National flags for the day. The main parade is an approximately 15 mins event , but the public conglomerates much before time for witnessing the cultural activities and also participating in the same. The parade epitomises many things, the historical relations between the two countries, the competition, the hatred , the love, inquisitiveness and the Patriotic demeanour.
It was time for the retreat. Harpreet was in the marching contingent again. As she got ready in the ceremonial uniform, she could hear the cheers of “Hindustan Zindabad” (Long live India) and “Vande Mataram” (Hail Motherland) , filling the air. She peeped out to see people gathered in thousands with the tricolour Indian flag fluttering in their hands. She gently smiled thinking of the fates of these flags in an hour from now. She looked at the gleaming faces of innocent youth painted with saffron, white and green. Each pair of eyes on both sides , filled with pride and anticipation that their country’s parade will be the best. Her thoughts dissolved when a colleague called,”It’s time!”
The master of the ceremonies dressed in white, made the announcement and signalled the public to welcome the contingent with cheers and war cries. The drums rolled and the parade commander gave them command. With one smart jerk the contingent marched towards the Border gate and took positions. Next followed Harpreet and her partner marching towards their positions near the gate. Cheers for the Women soldiers filled the air. Stamping the last step Harpreet faced her Pakistani counter part with show of anger and pride which was also part of the drill , and what actually gave the viewers the adrenaline rush.
Lastly, the parade commander marched smartly to his position near the gate. There were gates on both the sides painted in their respective national colours. As contingents of both sides smartly stood for further orders to retreat the flags from the hoist, the decibels of the patriotic cheers increased with the setting of the Sun.
Just when the Sun reached the point between the flags, the parade commander gave the command for lowering the flag. The contingent held on to the ropes strongly and brought down the flag slowly and gently , as it still proudly fluttered. The public had already stood in respect as is customary. As the flag further swirled down, the contingent formed itself in a manner to hold the flag and prevent it from touching the ground. In a military order they folded the flag. One of the soldiers marched back with the folded flag, which received salutes and standing ovations.
Rest of the contingent reeled back into a pre-rehearsed formation and marched back to the place of origin of the parade. Applause, appreciation and amazed expressions accompanied the contingent as they marched.
“It was again a good show,” Harpreet thought to herself but soon returned to the usual composure. This was all not new to her she told herself as she gazed at the fading public. Few clicked pictures with the soldiers on guard, few with the contingent. A dreamy Harpreet was also pulled for a picture by few where she grinned with plasticity. And as dusk fell, silence and darkness cladded the place. The waved flags now lay on the dust like any other plastic trash lying there.
As people started their retreat, Harpreet viewed the changed souls, not struck by instilled patriotism but by their usual selves! Unruliness won over patriotic discipline as people refused to move in a line when requested by the BSF soldiers. Few even got into heated arguments.
Honking of vehicles replaced patriotic cheers. At a distance, two groups of youths got into a tussle over some parking issue. The laughter of few girls echoed who discussed about what movie they should go and watch now. Few mothers spanked their kids demanding them to walk faster as they had domestic chores waiting at home. Vendors greeted the dispersing public to earn their living through the patriotic mileage.
But the fence gazed quietly at the schemozzle. The civil volunteers started their job of cleaning up the place to prepare it for the next day and Harpreet and others prepared for their turns of night duty on the fence. Whatever may be the situation, the vigil at the fence was uncompromising.
Some important activities were to be finished. Representatives of both countries completed the formalities of few people who were being repatriated to both sides. Few had families to receive them and few had solitude.
And so all human souls got back to their routines, few by keeping the parade as a good travel memory and few falling back to their true duties. As for patriotism…well that continued having its 15 minutes fame.