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Song and dance too: Noisy overture to India-Pakistan daily 'war'

Wednesday March 16, 2011 06:40:50 PM, Jaideep Sarin, IANS

Attari (Punjab): The war cries and the goose-stepping are still there, but the latest showbiz songs, including the ever popular "Jai Ho", have softened the hostile edge at the Attari-Wagah road border between India and Pakistan. War cries, smartly dressed border guards putting their best foot forward and slogan shouting by the crowds... that's the daily scene at Attari, 30 km from the Sikh holy city of Amritsar, where tensions between the two neighbours get played out.

But now, patriotic songs, many of them from Bollywood movies, are also played by the Border Security Force (BSF), India's border guards, at full blast as an overture to the 25- minute retreat ceremony -- a daily ceremonial exercise to mark the closing of the border gates between India and Pakistan that takes place at day's end.

And, in an entirely different kind of war, the Pakistan side responds equally loudly with their own songs blaring from loudspeakers.

On this side of the border, Shankar Mahadevan's "Sabse Aage Honge Hindustani", the title song from Shah Rukh Khan starrer "Chak de! India", and A.R. Rahman's Oscar-winning composition for Hollywood film "Slumdog Millionaire", "Jai Ho", are among the popular songs played to stir patriotic feelings.

With both sides trying to outdo each other, it's a near-deafening experience for the Indians and Pakistanis who have travelled the distance to watch the ceremony.

But not everyone is complaining.

"It is great to hear patriotic songs and dance to them. The slogan-shouting and cheering add to the atmosphere. Every Indian must watch this ceremony," says Shashank Joshi, a visitor from Mumbai.

As the sun sets, the area comes alive as troopers and spectators get ready for the retreat ceremony.

At Attari, spectators start lining up just after 3.30 p.m.

Over 10,000 spectators fill the sitting arena to capacity - presenting a colourful sight and often renting the air with their slogans in glory of India.

This continues for nearly 90 minutes.

As the spectator galleries fill up, including with foreigners, feverish activity is seen on both the sides as troopers get ready for the ceremony.

The music then gives way to war cries from troopers on both sides shouting their throats out on loudspeakers.

Till last year there was a lot of aggressive posturing and pointed stares by troopers of both the countries. However, with the BSF toning down some of the posturing, the ceremony looks a shade less aggressive.

The showing of thumbs and other physical gestures to run down the other side have been done away with, even though the Pakistan Rangers on the other side continues with most postures.

Still, for the people, the majority of them watching the ceremony for the first time, the ceremony continues to push the adrenalin.

Each war cry is greeted with thunderous applause from the spectators.

"This is all part of our daily exercise during the retreat. Both sides try to put their best foot forward," a BSF trooper told IANS here.

Slogans like "Bharat Mata ki Jai", "Vande Mataram" and "Hindustan Zindabad" rent the air every few minutes on the Indian side.

Even though the number of spectators, on any given day, is much less on the Pakistani side, sloganeering can be heard from the other side as well.

"It is a great feeling to attend this ceremony. I have not seen any such ceremony before," Kannan Kutty from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia told IANS.

The grand finale of the ceremony is the parade by the smartly dressed troopers, BSF on the Indian side and the Pakistan Rangers (in their traditional shalwar-kameez) on the other.

Once the formal ceremony is over and the gates are shut, its back to the full-blast music on both sides.

A few minutes later, as the crowd trickles out, silence descends once again at the border. The 'war' is over - at least till tomorrow evening.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at





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