Alicia Mollaun, a PhD candidate at the Crawford School at ANU, is based in Islamabad. Her previous post in this series described a visit to Lahore.
About a 45-minute drive from Lahore the traffic starts to build. People are streaming in from everywhere, parking cars haphazardly and then funneling through men's and women's security checkpoints. We cross through the gates. The atmosphere is electric, and amid cries of 'Pakistan Zindabad!' (long live Pakistan!) people are dancing and singing. No, I am not at a concert or a Twenty20 cricket match. This is the border between Pakistan and India.
Hordes of people descend daily from Lahore and its surrounding villages to witness the ceremony, conducted in pseudo-stadiums on either side of the border. There are only a handful of foreigners present. On the Pakistan side, the sexes are segregated by a narrow road, which acts as a stage for the main event.
Pakistani men dance, clap and wave as someone shouts 'Pakistan' and the crowd replies 'Zindabad!', similar to how a cry of 'Aussie, Aussie, Aussie' elicits an 'Oi, Oi, Oi' from the crowd. The female stands are no less exuberant, with women and girls of all ages waving flags and screaming nationalist chants.
We watch the Pakistan border guards, clad in all black with ornate berets, try to out goose-step and high kick their way to the border gate, while their Indian counterparts in beige, khaki and red perform with equal zeal. I am informed that the kicks aren't as high and the foot stomping is not as vigorous as it was in the old days – the routine has been modified to reduce the number of ankle and knee injuries to the border guards.
The Indian crowd.
At the end of the twenty-minute ceremony, both flags are lowered and the gates are slammed shut. But before the border is closed for another night, a guard from each side steps closer to the border and shakes hand with his adversary. A gesture of goodwill, lost on most of the crowd.