Attari village is situated around 30 km from Amritsar. It falls on the Grand Trunk Road that runs from Amritsar in India to Lahore in Pakistan. It is famous for the Beating Retreat ceremony that is conducted there for the Flag Lowering daily. A similar ceremony is held in Wagah Village, which is on the Pakistan side.
In stark contrast to the serious and sombre atmosphere from the parking lot to the security, the mood once inside is quite festive. There are music and dancing and of course the highlight of the ceremony, the famous foot-stomping marching by the uniforms from both sides. These days even women soldiers are part of the march. Various patriotic songs from Bollywood keep the tempo high.
Sometimes school children come prepared with performances. Much to the delight of those who have come hours before the time and from far and wide, singing and dancing is allowed even for the audiences. So is photography and videography. The BSF manages the entire event.
Their jawans stay alert and stay distributed among the crowds. Each performance is loved by the audiences. A big hit, are the well-trained BSF dogs and their antics. When they bow down, the crowd goes into raptures. The Master of Ceremony takes the show step by step and also explains the history behind the ceremony.
Somewhere between the ceremony we also get to hear the catchy BSF song Seema Suraksha Bal. For those who like to see a real close up of everything, there are big screens all around the seating area that telecast the proceedings live.
Tricolour merchandise is sold by vendors at competitive prices inside the stadium, if you missed buying some outside, you can do so inside.
Once the planned performances got over, they invited the women from the audiences to come down and join in in the dancing. It was something else to watch girls and women of all ages, wearing all kinds of different attires, get up and descending from all around us as if just waiting for this moment. So many of them jumped and danced with gay abandon, singing passionately along to ‘India Waley’ or ‘Ma Tujhe Salaam’ and all the other songs…while the uniformed BSF men kept a close watch and guard all around them.
As moment after moment unfolded, I was compelled to reflect upon the energy that surrounded me. The massive the stadium was filled to the brim. Students, farmers, senior citizens, corporates, businessmen…People from all parts of India, different cultures, regions and religions sat together, sang and cheered together. It appeared as though at the moment, they all had only one blood type, India Positive. I reflected how well India has kept its promise of one nation, one people and grown from strength to strength.
Though a lot remains to be done…In a distance, I looked at the sparse crowd in the much smaller seating area in the Pakistan side. How a country, blinded by hate, working solely on a one-point agenda to destroy India, had, in turn, failed itself in every sense as a nation…The unabated cheering brought me back. Big and small flags were being waved all around.
Regional or religious chants are not permitted here. The only chants permitted are ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ and the like. And now, the latest addition being ‘How’s the Josh’!And of course, the crowds all knew the answer to that one!
The entry is free but one must book the seats well in advance via BSF. Carry ID proofs at all times. Go early to avoid traffic and to get a good spot in the parking area. Purses and handbags are not permitted so do not bring any or leave them in the car. Mobile networks do not work there as they’re jammed for security reasons.
For many civilians, this is a novel experience. Watching the BSF and Pakistani soldiers from such close quarters, it reinforces in many, the knowledge they already had. The peace that we have is not free. There are heavy costs one pays for it.
For many, it was a precious opportunity to give expression to the feelings kept inside during the daily humdrum of life. Otherwise, today, where else can one scream ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ to their heart’s content and not be called a little crazy?
As India evolves and moves ahead, perhaps the ceremony will become more refined and a tad less jingoistic. But even when that happens the ceremony is bound to be a patriots delight and one for the bucket list!
Vadodara based writer, Aarti K. Pathak is former CEO of a web portal. She writes on various subjects from family, relationships and parenting to her favourite one, her discoveries of India. She blogs at sparrowtimes.wordpress.com.