A day after a suicide bomb attack killed at least 60 people on the Pakistani side of the border, Pakistani Rangers (PR) went ahead with the Beating Retreat ceremony on their side. This surprised ---- and angered ---- India’s Border Security Force (BSF) brass because the Pakistani Rangers had requested to suspend the “ceremony” for three days. So when the flag lowering ceremony took place on Monday, a tradition both countries have followed since 1959 --- except a deviation during the 1971 war, the Pakistani side had thousands of flag-waving and slogan-shouting tourists (were they?) to cheer their boys at the border but the Indian side did not have a single one to match their enthusiasm and lung power.
I have never been to the Wagah border to watch this military spectacle. But many of my friends have and the views are sharply divided. Some have enjoyed the “show of strength” while others think it’s just a pompous show and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, to gloat about.
So before writing this piece, I decided to check out the “world-famous” parade on YouTube. The first video that popped up was a year-old one by someone called Neeraj Pareta. Pareta’s description of it ---- ‘Parade at Wagah (The true feeling for the Nation comes from here’ ---- sums up his views on the parade. While watching the 12.30 minute-long video, I remembered how British director Michael Palin, who filmed and broadcast the ceremony for one of his television around-the-world travel programmes, had described the parade: a display of "carefully choreographed contempt." His assessment, I think, was spot on.
But this "carefully choreographed contempt” has left me cold ---- and angry.
Before my Twitter “friends” brand me as “unpatriotic” etc, let me clarify that I love military parades, especially the one on January 26. I just love the way the servicemen parade in perfect coordination with confidence and pride that’s so missing in the civilian way of life.
So here’s why I didn’t like the Wagah parade: The BSF jawans are professional soldiers who are trained to keep our borders secure and I think its utterly disgusting on our part to ask these professional and proud soldiers to take part in this drama every single day in front of thousands of tourists.
Those goose steps, aggressive body language, eye-ball-to eyeball contact with the Rangers, double quick marching steps and a weird handshake with the opposing party is so very infantile and doesn’t behove of a 67-year-old proud democracy.
I wonder if anyone has ever asked the BSF soldiers how they feel to put up this act day after day, knowing well that one misstep in front of a ‘nationalistic” crowd could well mean a huge blot on their service record.
I am sure that many think that by cheering the soldiers at Wagah they do their bit for the country. This is a wrong. If you really want to do something for the nation, then why not try and join the Territorial Army or ensure the success of the Clean Indian Campaign? And if you want to say ‘thank you’ to our soldiers, there are plenty of other ways of doing so: Speak up for their rights or thank a jawan when you meet one.
But for heaven’s sake, please don’t disrespect our brave soldiers and belittle their professional duties by asking them to take part in such a Bollywood-style obnoxious drama at Wagah so that you can have your five-minute fix of nationalism.