Nationalism is not a showpiece to be worn on the sleeve. It is ingrained, to be felt, experienced and lived. No one can resist goose bumps when the National Flag is hoisted amid the singing of the Anthem on various national and international platforms.
A few days back, on my visit to Amritsar, I grabbed the opportunity to fulfil my desire of watching the retreat ceremony at Attari-Wagah. With a certain imagination and excitement, I headed towards the post. Flags of both countries were visible from the road, atop structures on either side. The high-flying flags fill one with a distinct feeling of euphoria, but at the same time, indicate the limits of man-made boundaries and compulsions.
The heart rejoices at the sight of birds flying freely across the borders, the whiff of air flowing without caring for the border lines soothes the body and cajoles the heart and soul, too. Both countries share the air, the ambience, the birds, the ecology of trees on either side. Nature is generous, but we humans have rigidly compartmentalised our movements, painfully shackling ourselves in geographical and psychological boundaries.
Sitting in my seat at the extreme end, a couple of steps away from the border gates, I found myself more curious about the happenings on the other side: the people, their attire, their mannerisms... all appeared like ours. The retreat ceremony began with a resounding start, as sound systems on both sides were given a green light to roar out their counterparts. Both sides, suitably cued by men with baton, got euphoric as the adrenaline in the form of slogans was pumped into their veins. Contrary to my perceptions, the ceremony was sans any cultural presentation.
The parading security personnel appeared more concerned about their challenging gestures of flexing muscles and moustache, generating a fair amount of excitement among people. But it did nothing for my cerebral churning. Amid the fanfare, chaotic and loud music, and chanting of slogans, I sat there lost in thoughts. My perceived aspirations and imagination lay shattered. The only part that fascinated me was when both flags were lowered with due honour. As the ceremony ended and people from both sides started leaving, I waved to people on the other side, which was reciprocated with the same warmth. Suddenly, a strong voice intercepted my engagement. I was told by a security man not to resort to such signals. The humanist sentiment in me started arguing with the nationalistic sentiment.
Retreating from the security zone, I drove freely back to the city. The giant flags driven by the unprejudiced winds, fluttering in the same direction — sometimes towards the Indian side and other times leaning towards Pakistan — appeared to be mocking me. I reached my hotel and got busy with routine activities, leaving the human approach to the mercy of the political bosses on both sides, which needs a suitable and timely retreat.