Recently, I visited Wagha Border Post – famous for its parade and Flag Lowering Ceremony. It has been filmed/recorded and many videos are available on video sharing websites including Youtube, Daily Motion and Vimeo. I think the best and most succinct description of the parade is the remark by Micheal Palin. He described it as “carefully choreographed contempt”.
I had neither time, nor energy to watch the parade. However, a few thoughts from the visit seem worth sharing. The first thing that struck me was the “Freedom Gate” (بابِ آزادی). First, I was stopped by rangers personnel from approaching the very Freedom Gate. I had to park my car as I did not have a special permission, and I did not know where to get this permission from. No such information was available around the Freedom Gate. If you had that special permission, you could take you vehicle very close to the Gate. I don’t mind this restriction, but the information should be available to all.
Anyhow, I parked my car and walked towards the gate. I bought ticket, went further and reached a barbed wire. Another gentleman there told me I could not go beyond that barbed wire before 4 PM. I, along with a crowed of thousands of people, waited there for about 45 minutes. It seemed people from every ethnicity, profession, class were there. The people with special permission were also there waiting in their vehicles. The difference between the haves and the have-nots was peculiar throughout the event.
As gates opened, the people with special permission were allowed to take their cars inside. The ordinary folks like me walked on. The haves were not gender segregated; the have-nots were. I, along with my brother and father, had to sit in one enclosure, while my mother and wife sat in another enclosure. As I looked across the borders, I saw men and women sitting together in one enclosure. “That’s how human beings live”, I thought.
Mobile phones were not working in the parade arena, so we could not communicate through mobiles as well. National songs were blaring through speakers on both sides of the borders. When would the parade start, I asked no particular person. You need to wait till sunset, was the response from someone. I could not bear so much noise and sun for another two and half hours. Luckily, at that very moment, my wife looked at me from the opposite enclosure. I waved at her and gestured to leave. She immediately agreed, and we left without watching the actual ceremony.
As I was leaving, the border gates were opened and Friendship Bus of Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation entered Pakistani territory. People waved at the passengers and shouted welcome slogans. I took a few photos of the bus and rushed to catch up with my wife and mother.
My head was full of unpatriotic thoughts. I was wondering if the partition (1947) had not taken place, there would have been no Freedom Gate, and I would have the freedom to drive beyond that point without any fuss. I could go to Amritsar, New Delhi, many more Indian cities. In fact, I could go beyond that. I could go to Dhaka, and Chittagong as well. Did I win freedom in 1947, or lost it?