Coming to a shimana near you
by Udayan Chattopadhyay for AlalODulal.org
Every night, India and Pakistan engage in a ridiculous border ceremony at Wagah, on the outskirts of Amritsar, where respective national armies engage in a choreographed display of synchronized aggression, cheered on by their compatriots. And soon, the Indian Express reports that similar border ceremonies will take place on the India-Bangladesh border – however, these will be “minus the aggression” at various crossings in West Bengal and Tripura.
Key features of this different brand of national chest thumping: it “will include renditions from the works of famous Bengali poet Kazi Nazrul Islam, who spoke about undivided Bengal”. The BSF states: “We will also include school children from both sides in the ceremony. Besides parades, it will also have dance and music”
Cynics may wonder if the misery of border life will be swept under the carpet for a few moments each night while the sanskriti takes place for middle class urban tourists.
Does this just play into our stereotypes – the martial Indian and Pakistani Punjabis within earshot of Lahore, and the poetry-reciting East and West Bengalis too busy with their Nazrulgiti to even pretend to get charged along Radcliffe’s markings?
Both Bengals chose paths forcing them to look Westwards after 1947. One Bengal had a violent reaction to the set of events that followed; the other was spared a parallel horror but continues its integrated existence with those thousands of miles away while remaining largely oblivious to those right next door. Both Bengals are well aware of the jokes and perceptions lurking beneath the surface coming from that direction.
But perhaps the different way we may end up commemorating the border in our part of the subcontinent is a good step in reminding us, at least for a few moments each day, that in spite of 1947 and all we have been through since, our reality doesn’t have to be like the one our Western cousins have carved out for themselves.