Jai Hind! And other bits of patriotic fervor

Hindustan zindabad!

On a list of the things that most Indians adore (tea, cricket, economic growth), nationalism deserves mention. Few places is that more clearer than the Wagah Border ceremony.

The ceremony draws domestic and foreign tourists from all corners to basically see the crowds and soldiers of both India and Pakistan compete for patriotic bragging rights: who can shout the loudest, kick the highest and growl the longest.

Looked at from a positive viewpoint, the daily pageant that ends in lowering the flag and closing the border represents a great bit of revelry in the huge experiment that is India. From a more pessimistic viewpoint, it’s an example of the jingoism that boils to the surface in this nation of 1.2 billion “argumentative Indians.”

At the very least, the shenanigans are fueled in part by one of the nation’s other obsessions: disliking Pakistan.

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My hat is bigger than yours…

It's like a folded, starched napkin

The pageantry, the pomp and the fancy-pants-ness of military ceremonies in India is something to behold. And few places is that more accessible than the daily ritual performed on both sides of the India-Pakistan border at Wagah.

Patriotic citizens and puzzled foreigners pile into bandstands along the road between the two countries. Each nation trots out an honor guard for some drill and maneuvers that could easily be a flash dance or jazzercise routine at your local Y. There’s lots of shouting, huzzahing, high-kicking, grunting, “aggressive marching” (I believe that’s the official term) and even a handshake. Then the border gates are officially closed and the flags of each country are lowered.

But costumes are as priceless as the show. And best of all: the hats.

India’s are above. Pakistan’s involve some kind of a cape (it was difficult to see) which give them a more sinister, desert-marauder appearance.

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Sometimes I forget this about India…

At the Wagah border with Pakistan

I love India for her so-called faults as much as anything else. I revel in my adopted country’s chaotic, imprecise, ad hoc, ecumenical, communal, fraternal, bureaucratic, inefficient, relaxed, whimsical, anything goes, nothing goes nature.

I can argue they’re not really faults at all. Yes, India has a load of problems. And, yes, some of them are exacerbated by the above characteristics.

But perhaps these character flaws, these rough edges — that’s what I’ll call them — may very well be completely, inevitably, undeniably unavoidable when you have 1.2 billion people trying sort out their lives, both individually and as a group.

There are plenty who will say India’s democracy is a sham, that it’s broken, that it’s a hoax, that it needs to go. I’ve said such things in passing and those are certainly arguable, if not truly defensible, viewpoints.

But whatever needs or doesn’t need to happen in India, we must remember she constitutes the biggest experiment in self governance and actualization in the history of sentience. To that alone, I say Jai Hind!

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