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Urmi Bhattacheryya

       Some years ago, I made a very memorable trip. Months later, I went back to that place a second time round. Each time I took notes for two completely—and I cannot emphasize the word strongly enough—completely different reasons.

        I rarely revisit history, and while that statement can border a little on the incongruous, what I simply mean is that I have rarely gone to a place a second time. Or rather, I’ve rarely had the opportunity to. For when you, like our family of four, nurse an appetite for indulgent traveling and live in a country like India—which is among the “mother cuisines” of all travellers’ palates—you have places to go. There is always another spot on the map to see, another mile further, another thing on the itinerary.  From the sun-kissed beaches of Goa and the rustic royalty of Rajasthan to the pristine snows of Kashmir and the pearl-drop islands of the Lakshadweep—I have loved them all. And yet I can reminisce about that one trip I made two times which created an indelible impression on my head, heart, and soul….

       It was the sweltering month of May over four years ago when we first visited Amritsar. We were no different from the thousands of people from the swooning plains of the country that visit in dense bunches in the cooler climes of summer.  Amritsar’s scale rarely read a Fahrenheit lower than ours, but it was a welcoming stop on the way to the Himalayas and was a fantastic excuse to soak in more history. So we went to that city which is the capital of Punjab and the heart of the Golden Temple. In the course of four days we saw it all—lapped up all that Punjab had to offer its voracious lot of tourists. On our fourth day there, we found ourselves standing underneath the wrought edifice that marked a staggering 60-year-old bilateral history—a history shared by two nations , a history that has amalgamated the hearts of two peoples on both sides of the border: the Wagah Border.

        This Indo-Pak border stands on the threshold of both India and Pakistan and runs through Amritsar and Lahore, respectively. The Wagah Border is marked by the magnificent Wagah gate—a product, I suspect, of both integrated creativity of the two countries and a testimony to the times to which it would stand. There are high stands on either side of the border for people from both countries to sit and watch the parade. For, as we realized, that parade concurring in rhythm on both sides is an amazing sight to behold. Border Security Force, or BSF, is what they are called—as that 13-year-old me learnt that day. Both sides of the BSF line up in eerily similar manner and then do that remarkable march, halt, salaam (salute). I still remember what struck me hard that day, how everything happened in such rhythm, in such identical order on both sides of that great gate, almost like two sides of a coin….

        Then there comes that most beautiful of all sights: the criss-crossing of the flags. The tricolour and the crescent-and-the-star are lowered from their posts together in a strange intersection, an act, I almost feel, that defies geometry and goes beyond the decorum of it all, beyond that propriety, that simple rank-and-order, to something much, much more. For when the twain meet each other even for that half a second, you can feel that heart throbbing simultaneously in both.  You feel it all in that infinitesimal moment as you watch the flags flap, touch each other, come down, and are folded by soldiers of both forces. In many ways, the act catalyzes every element of discord and coalesces into a unity that has spanned centuries and countries and cultures, through the labyrinths of time and space; flags flown by names and faces and religions and communities, but that today, flap as one, as the one great unifier. Four years on today, I can still declare, the hundreds here and the hundreds there felt nothing but a strong intangible connection that day, that moment, as I did and lived it, too. I think it changed a part of me forever.

        Several months later, I returned to the border. This time I was not with my family, but with a troupe of forty-four Peace Ambassadors (The Telegraph In Schools team) from India to Pakistan. The gates were open that day, and our young hearts were eager to cross that threshold and participate in the International Schools Educational Olympiad in Karachi, to absorb the wonders of is our neighbour that we’d never before visited. We sang the National Anthem, kissed the soils of India, and then walked over the Wagah border to kiss the soils of Pakistan. And there begins another incredible experience, but that is another story….

       At the end of it all, I could love it no less and no more than I already did that second time around when I crossed the Wagah to “bond beyond borders”—borders that never really existed.


 Bonding Beyond Borders