Swirling orange, white, and green flags danced with the overpowering music in the air above hundreds of proud and painted faces. The proud and painted faces opened their mouths and yelled in unison, at the cue of the man in the white suit, “Long live Hindustan!” From the minute I sat down at the Wagah Border, I felt the electric air crackling and the hearts pounding. The ceremony occurs daily, and with as much fervor and passion each time.
I come from a country where national pride is supposed to ring true in every heart of each citizen, and the stars and stripes can be seen from every street corner. Crowds of people chant, “U-S-A” and paint their faces in our colors on the 4th of July, but the air is most definitely not electric. In thecity I love, the air smells of candied nuts and pee. The atmosphere of the crowd at the border was much more volatile, and there was a disturbing sense that it could erupt in any moment.
Perhaps this was because of the proximity to proud Pakistanis. The two countries held what they could over the other, the most bizarre of these being the dancing of the Indian women in the arena. In any part of India, this is frowned upon. Women cannot dance in the streets for men to look at. However, the dancing at the border was a way to show the Pakistanis just how free the women of India are, and aren’t they jealous? Just look at how much fun the women have! It was a bit frustrating that we could barely see the Pakistani side of the events, but from quick glimpses, the women and men were segregated, and there were chants heard of “Allah-hu akbar.”
The atmosphere of the crowd intrigued me more than anything else. Individually, people would not be inclined to act this way. The atmosphere only becomes so volatile when a group of people joins together. What is it that causes us to change our normal ways of being when among a huge crowd? This sort of experience is called a “rite of unification” and a “rite of intensification” in anthropology. When we, as humans, all go through an experience together, it brings us closer and makes us more likely to go along with the crowd. It intensifies our feelings and our perception.
A very common example of this is the Nuremberg Rally in Nazi Germany, the annual rally of the Nazi party. Over half a million Germans participated in these rallies, and many films were made to commemorate them. These rallies were mostly in order to strengthen the personality cult of Adolf Hitler. People became more and more enraptured with him, and, caught up in the fervor, swore allegiance to him. They believed they were meant to be part of a new, more perfect race. The volatility and the fervor of the crowd could be compared quite easily to the scene at the Wagah Border. The type of nationalism was also quite similar; one that is centered on having might and wanting to show that off to the world.
To make a final remark on the bizarreness of the scene, Gandhi’s photo hung above the whole thing. A man who preached nonviolence and who didn’t want Partition to begin with, and who would have hated the ceremony with a burning passion. The Indians respect Gandhi more than anyone else. So why do they not follow his ideals? I understand that he had high expectations, but why does the country seem to be heading in the opposite direction? This simply baffles me. But then again, the more time I spend here, the more I think that India would not be India without the endless contradictions, that, when they are unraveled, seem to actually make sense.