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The End of a Smartly Turned Out Era
November 2, 2010 3:22 PM   Subscribe

The border crossing at Wagah between India and Pakistan has long been host to one of the most bizarre rituals in diplomacy, one which draws massive crowds to witness its daily spectacle. Sadly, all good things come to an end.
posted by Biru (57 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Perhaps Michael Palin could have let them in on the fact that there isn't really a Ministry of Silly Walks back at Commonwealth headquarters.
posted by GuyZero at 3:25 PM on November 2, 2010 [11 favorites]


Previously (with video) and historically

Indian version of the news ;p
posted by The Lady is a designer at 3:35 PM on November 2, 2010


At last, some sensible policies from the Ministry of Silly Walks.
posted by Abiezer at 3:47 PM on November 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'd say this is nuts, but my military force of choice was literally born in a bar, so ...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:47 PM on November 2, 2010


Video is hilarious if played with "it's like that" by RUN-DMC
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 3:47 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is the most sensible and benign display of national chauvinism I've seen since the World Cup.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 3:48 PM on November 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


YOU JUST GOT SERVED!
posted by indubitable at 3:51 PM on November 2, 2010


It's awesome. I watched them close up the border the evening before I crossed into Pakistan about 10 years ago. Fervent nationalism at its finest.
posted by gman at 3:51 PM on November 2, 2010


God DAMN it. This was remarkably high on my subcontinental to-do list. Borders are just so inherently fascinating; on one hand, they're entirely legal fictions, lines on maps; but on the other hand, they have such real consequences -- you go to the other side and Things Are Different.

I wonder what the condemning editorial writer thinks of India v. Pakistan cricket matches?

Personally, I'm in favour of anything that involves international conflicts between nuclear-armed states being handled with what is essentially an angry dance-off with throngs of spectators.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 3:56 PM on November 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


I strongly suspect that the leaders of both countries were sent this link and it was pretty much over at that point.
posted by mullingitover at 3:57 PM on November 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


I've seen the video before and always had the same thought process: They run the border between two countries with all sorts of hate and animosity. This show and spectacle provides a silly yet peaceful way to blow off the steam of being a border guard. And it sure beats the hell out of shooting each other... or nuking each other.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 3:58 PM on November 2, 2010


I understand that the new procedure will see the guards marching up to each other, offering their hands to shake, and then at the last minute whipping them back and smoothing their hair.
posted by No-sword at 4:00 PM on November 2, 2010 [31 favorites]


Pakistan and India admit it you were meant for eachother. Just get back together. This trial separation hasn't worked and it has been hell on the kids. Just stop this silly bickering and consider the great makeup sex.
posted by humanfont at 4:04 PM on November 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


North and South Korea need to give that crap a try. Love the head gear. They seem like chickens stomping about looking for seed feed and sex.
posted by Postroad at 4:10 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't really think this kind of fake-nationalism-but-actually-working-together-to-pull-it-off really increases tensions between countries. If anything it would probably make things better.
posted by delmoi at 4:31 PM on November 2, 2010


Mohammad Rafi said it best: Remember friends, the world is one

Although we hail from different lands,
we share one earth and sky and sun,
remember friends, the world is one.

We want all enmity to cease,
for we want peace, we all want peace,
we want no hate, we want no strife,
since we were born for love and life,
come let us chant while joining hands,
we shall not rest till wars are done,
remember friends, the world is one.

Although we hail from different lands,
we share one earth and sky and sun,
remember friends, the world is one.

We have matured to dream and build,
We want our dreams to be fulfilled,
We have come here to dream and plan,
A world of joy and hope for man,
A world of dignity's demesne,
A world that we shall see begun,
Remember friends, the world is one.

Although we hail from different lands,
We share one earth and sky and sun,
Remember friends, the world is one.

posted by nickyskye at 4:44 PM on November 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


They are like a species of giant rutting birds
posted by the noob at 5:04 PM on November 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well! I think this is a big step in the right direction.
posted by WalterMitty at 5:19 PM on November 2, 2010 [9 favorites]


The phrasing in the "Express Tribune" article is strikingly opinionated. I'm not used to seeing that kind of blatant contempt for political behavior in an apparently-mainstream news organization.
posted by Mars Saxman at 5:21 PM on November 2, 2010


I've always thought it was kinda racist to laugh at that. I've even witnessed some of the most smug, left wing TV commentators have a good old belly laugh as they watched the ceremony.

They wouldn't dare laugh at, for example, an Aboriginal ceremony where they're running around in their kangaroo skin briefs at night, invoking some ancient snake spirit "ooga booga!" I think they're equally ludicrous.

But who knows what makes these people tick.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:59 PM on November 2, 2010


Yeah, I think the Express Tribune article kinda doesn't get it. If two nuclear-armed states who have it in for each other can pull off this kind of choreography daily, it suggests to me that there may be hope for them.
posted by Jimbob at 6:00 PM on November 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


Glad to see I wasn't the only one shocked by the strong wording of the IHT piece. It's certainly unusual to see so many references to fascism and Nazis themselves when discussing a glorified daily dance competition. Even if it is an op-ed, this seems rather over the top.

Also: "The foreigners who saw this were disgusted and took movies of it to show back home to scare their children of the dangers of war." That's *certainly* not the tone I've seen it discussed in the last few times it's popped up.
posted by pahalial at 6:11 PM on November 2, 2010


That's a fairly bizarre piece of writing right there in the context of the IHT. Reads much more like something you'd find in the back pages of locally-sourced, contributor-written news magazines.
posted by jsavimbi at 6:37 PM on November 2, 2010


in the context of the IHT

I don't see where it says International Herald Tribune...
posted by dhruva at 6:46 PM on November 2, 2010


Ah yes I do...the IHT usually ships along with a local english language newspaper, that must be it.
posted by dhruva at 6:47 PM on November 2, 2010


.
posted by Splunge at 6:53 PM on November 2, 2010


Count me as another who thinks the Tribune article got it all wrong. the crowd seems good-natured about this spectacle, and the blowing off steam angle cannot be ignored. They stop this harmless daily venting of frustrations and there may well be bullets flying across this particular border crossing before you know it.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:56 PM on November 2, 2010


After looking at the video, this looks like something with a veneer of agression and posturing, but a core of coordination and cooperation, for example, the coordinated lowering of flags, the matching head dresses, and symmetrical choreography. They look intense during the ceremony, but I bet they chat regularly.

It's too bad that it will be ending; this tradition took one of the blandest, most intimidating parts of human bureaucracy and made it a spectacle. Where else are there border crossings with thousands of daily spectators?
posted by Alison at 7:25 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's yesterday's editorial, which explains the tone. The Express Tribune, per the About Us page, is the international edition of a Pakistan national newspaper (thrilled to be affiliated with the NYT global group.)

The online international audience is presumably English readers outside the nation who take an interest in Pakistan's affairs (mostly expats and foreign businesspeople, I'd bet). I'm not surprised that the paper's editors voicing embarrassment, if their readership's interests are best served by enhancing Pakistan's image as a Serious Up-and-Coming World Power and Trade Partner.
posted by gingerest at 7:29 PM on November 2, 2010


Read "voiced" for "voicing", please.
posted by gingerest at 7:30 PM on November 2, 2010


If Metafilter and FARK ever have a meetup, here's how it will go.
posted by zippy at 7:58 PM on November 2, 2010


Note that they won't do away with the flag-lowering ceremony completely; they'll probably not slam the gate shut too hard, and they won't flash their thumbs downwards anymore.

And oh yeah, the BSF introduced women rangers last June. Quite a moment that, a very strong message to convey in an otherwise male-dominated macho organization.

Been told that on the Indian side, they've already converted it into a massive street-party; people line up for hours, and have massive dance-fest with pop-patriotic songs. Have to admit it, watching all those aunties swaying their hips to Chak de India is quite fun, in an indulgent sort of a way.

Personally, not bothered about belicosity at Wagah anymore; used to be bugged by all that ra-ra chest-thumping a few years back, but it now feels quite tame, like petulant kids playing dress-up. A bigger concern is about closing the border for so long; having crossed land-borders elsewhere extensively, to think that we're okay with keeping the border open for only 10-odd hours a day feels anachronistic. Surely, there's some scope of routing more trade through the actual land border than through Dubai and Singapore, as is the case now.
posted by the cydonian at 8:25 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sounds more like both sides noticed, "oh gosh, everyone else in the world is laughing AT us".
posted by sammyo at 8:46 PM on November 2, 2010


I actually quite enjoyed this. It looks a little silly, sure, but the ritual is so fascinating. I'm curious how each of the little bits took its place in the ceremony: the stomp, the thumbs down (though this one seems obvious), the lowering of the flags in a civil but competitive way, the curt handshake, and the final slamming of the gate. All of that had to be codified, and it's wonderful that it was.

I think Alison is right about this. They're all performers in the same dance. I bet they all stop for tea at the same time and talk cricket (however dangerous that may be).
posted by gc at 10:12 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


No snake spirit here.
posted by ooga_booga at 1:17 AM on November 3, 2010


Bloody hell.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 1:22 AM on November 3, 2010


And oh yeah, the BSF introduced women rangers last June. Quite a moment that, a very strong message to convey...

I read that as "rangas."
posted by uncanny hengeman at 1:24 AM on November 3, 2010


I lived in Lahore for much of my life, and went several times to Wagah. What the Tribune editorial doesn't mention is what happens after the ceremony ends, when people from both sides flood as close to the gates as they're allowed, waving at those on the other side, pressing their noses to the barrier at a landscape which looks exactly like the one behind them. Going to Wagah was fun. You screamed, you shouted, you tried to drown out the other side, and at the end of it you waved a fist or an open hand and went for a samosa chaat. Great fun. It felt like a cricket match. I'm sorry to see it end.
posted by tavegyl at 1:33 AM on November 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


cool, I was there in June and almost didn't go because it was so blisteringly hot, but now I'm glad I didn't miss it. it really was something. and the Amritsar tourism industry will not be happy about this.

what impressed me most were the guards on either side who would let out a long, drawn-out bellow, and would try and outlast each other's lung capacity in holding the note. astonishing how long they could hold their breath! their two voices from either side of the gate formed this awesome vibrating chord that lasted for minutes. I'll never forget it.
posted by moorooka at 2:15 AM on November 3, 2010


For those querying the tone of the article, that kind of writing is pretty much par for the course in the English language press of South Asia. Hyperbolic writing, wonderfully antique turns of phrase and exclamation marks are pretty much the house style.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:28 AM on November 3, 2010


"spectators who went there to see soldiers strutting about in a display of Nazi goose-step"
Erm:
Like other march steps, the "stechschritt" originated in the 18th century as a method to keep troops lined up properly as they advanced towards enemy lines. It was introduced into German military tradition by Leopold I, Prince of Anhalt-Dessau, a Field Marshall whose close attention to training transformed the Prussian infantry into one of the most formidable armed forces in Europe.
The Nazis stopped goose stepping in 1940, during the majority of WW2 the only army goose stepping was the Russian one. Also relevant:
In other nations, the goose step does not carry this negative connotation. This sometimes results in inaccurate conclusions being drawn by English-speaking observers.
posted by robertc at 2:54 AM on November 3, 2010


Loving the irony of USians mocking overtly patriotic rituals :-)
posted by i_cola at 4:45 AM on November 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I actually see hardly any mocking going on here, except for the Pakistani urbanite newspaper editors cowering in fear of someone mocking them. This event strikes me as "diplomacy, Indian style", quite possibly encouraging good relations with its theatrics, and it's a shame it has been downgraded into a "serious" nonevent that will fail to influence cross-border relations in any way whatsoever.
posted by shii at 5:22 AM on November 3, 2010


Loving the irony of USians mocking overtly patriotic rituals :-)

Not loving the utter mischaracterization of this thread that the above comment voices.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:18 AM on November 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Won't anyone think of the geese?
posted by WalterMitty at 7:34 AM on November 3, 2010


I went to the Wagh border a few years ago. Th most memorable thing about it was all of the Indian teenagers dancing to Bollywood music (in gender seperated groups) before the guard-changing ceremony got started and on the Pakistani side --- nobody dancing. The whole ceremony was more popular with the Indians even though there is a large Pakistani city --- Lahore --- closer to the border than Amritsar is on the Indian side.
posted by goethean at 7:44 AM on November 3, 2010


GuyZero, oddly enough I just watched Michael Palin's Himalaya series over the weekend...and one of the things he shows is this ceremony! I don't think he made any reference to the Ministry of Silly Walks, though.
posted by epersonae at 8:38 AM on November 3, 2010


Yes, sometimes Palin plays his post-Python life a bit too straight.
posted by GuyZero at 10:15 AM on November 3, 2010


I don't think he made any reference to the Ministry of Silly Walks, though.

Well, do admit, it would have been superfluous. And frankly disrepectful, if we want to get all PC about it.

Moreover, he does come from a country that has a tradition and respect for synchronized marching.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:08 PM on November 3, 2010


Moreover, he does come from a country that has a tradition and respect for synchronized marching.

But in all honesty, has anyone got anything they'd rather be doing than MARCHING up and down the SQUARE?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:10 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


The whole ceremony was more popular with the Indians even though there is a large Pakistani city --- Lahore --- closer to the border than Amritsar is on the Indian side.

I think that might be just a function of the day you happened to go. The ceremony is one of those things that people visiting Lahore are generally taken to see. One of the "must-do" sights. As a kid, I used to love going. An uncle lived close by, and was buddies with an officer in the Rangers. So every time someone from the family visited Lahore, he would gather up all the kids and take them to Wagah.

And yes, as tavegyl points out, the mood is much like a cricket match. There's competition, and cheering and yelling, but there's also friendly conversation.

I'm kind of sad that the tradition is coming to a close. And I'm struggling really hard to resist the temptation to snark about why the Indians might have suggested ending the friendly competition. ;P
posted by bardophile at 12:36 AM on November 4, 2010


to snark about why the Indians might have suggested ending the friendly competition

its their knees, no wait, its for peace...

what's your snark? ;p
posted by The Lady is a designer at 1:40 AM on November 4, 2010


With those plumed hats, it really reminds me of one of David Attenborough's documentaries on bird mating rituals.
posted by smackfu at 1:06 PM on November 5, 2010


Three days later, and I can't tell you how many times I've watched the video. Thanks, Biru. This was great.
posted by queensissy at 12:29 AM on November 6, 2010




Pakistan’s paramilitary border force has done an about-turn on its decision to tone down the flag-lowering ceremony at the Wagah frontier post just a week after saying that it would do away with aggressive gestures and orchestrated boot-stomping that form part of the event.

One step forward, two steps back.
posted by WalterMitty at 8:03 AM on November 8, 2010


WalterMitty: "Pakistan’s paramilitary border force has done an about-turn on its decision to tone down the flag-lowering ceremony at the Wagah frontier post just a week after saying that it would do away with aggressive gestures and orchestrated boot-stomping that form part of the event.

One step forward, two steps back.
"

And a good hard stomp.
posted by Happy Dave at 8:20 AM on November 8, 2010


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