Friday, November 8, 2013

The Border: A line construct

The arbitrariness of it all couldn't have been more blatantly staring in one’s face than when one stood at the so called border, a gate, a barbed fence, not even close to the seemingly obvious bold line that we see on the maps drawn to scale. Drawing lines on paper is one thing but on land, quite another. So much in contradiction with the simplicity with which it is put on paper, land however does not happen to be a plane in two dimensions with an origin, an x- and y-axis numbered and distributed into cells. One can’t really tame it in real as one does on paper so conveniently.

It was at the same time a surprising and a saddening spectacle when I visited the Attari border gate, yet revealing a tiny space left uncorrupt, uncoloured by flags, a silence in the competing noises on either side eclipsing each other. The first thing that struck me was the symbolism of nation-states. It really set the scene for what feelings were to be produced in the audience around the arena. One could see the Indian flag waving in the hands of visitors on this side of the gate, on their caps, young and old equally enthusiastically marching with the flag on the path facing the arbitrary gate between the two nation-states. It was directed by a person at the microphone announcing instructions on what slogans to take, playing the patriotic songs one could dance to, Bollywood seems to have aided in this and the flag sellers too seemed to labor under no confusion about which flags to sell on which side. The two teams were ready as if for a sport, the cheering crowds knew which side they were on. There were no two ways about it. There was a frame of Gandhi on this side and that of Jinnah on the other. They seemed to be watching over the act.

The crowd cheered on the saddening display of identifying so strongly with these arbitrary divisions of nation-states, I swallowed a lump in my throat. If one shuffled the crowds on either side, one wouldn't be able to tell who is from which side, not unless, there were those state supplied papers on who belongs to which nation.They marched on proudly, the potential martyrs taught to be proud of arriving at their death for the arbitrariness of it all. So were the people taught to hold them in pride, let not their martyrdom go meaningless, encouraging them in playing out their roles. 

Then, I hear, it’s not so bad after all. The marching troops on either side, after displaying their ability for nation (state) driven aggression, shared their meals by the evening, had a drink together. They betrayed their act by the exaggeration of it, much like the wrestlers who entertain the audience seeking to be entertained, a voluntary suspension of reality for the sake of entertainment. When the show came to an end and people on either side were retiring homewards, they did exchange shy smiles, not sure if now that the show is over, they should continue to hold on to their designated identities ordered and bordered by their respective nationhood or let the arbitrariness of it settle and shed the masks. The sun set on a peaceful note on both sides, unaware of its participation in the whole scheme of things, on how it drew a line between war and peace, war for the mornings and peace for the evenings, masks for the mornings and meals for the evenings.