With the nimbleness that it’s species is known for, the cat deftly negotiated the movable barriers on the International Border and leapt into India from Pakistan cocking the proverbial snook at Sir Cyril Radcliffe who drew the border.
This one bit of information should be enough to give a hint that Husseniwala border and its retreat ceremony is quite unlike the one at Wagah-Attari. If the latter is the gladiator’s arena with its high decibel, electric atmosphere and wearing-on-the-sleeve patriotism, then the former is at the home theatre level at best with a warm and cosy setting.
Husseiniwala lies some 15 km from the city of Ferozepur and till 1961 this area was with Pakistan. In that year the Indian government negotiated the exchange of Husseniwala and area around it with Pakistan in lieu of 12 villages in the adjoining Fazilka sector. The reason for this swap was that Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were cremated on the banks of Sutlej on March 24, 1931 in Husseniwala, after their hanging in Lahore central jail, and today a memorial stands in the memory at the spot.
In 1971, Husseiniwala was the site of a fierce battle fought between the Indian Army and Pakistan Army, the remains of which can be seen even today at the very site of the martyr’s memorial. A valiant action by a company of 15 Punjab battalion delayed the Pakistani advance for three days until the area was captured by the enemy.
However, with this adrenaline pumping heritage behind it, of nationalism as well as bravery in uniform, the Husseiniwala retreat ceremony still manages to retain a sense of calm. That itself is a cause for marvel. Of course, the crowds are lesser too. There are no hordes of tourists as the martyr’s memorial does not hold the same draw as Golden Temple and Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar. And there is no visible effort on part of the state government to project Hussesniwala as a tourist destination.
What makes this border post unique is that unlike Wagah-Attari where the IB neatly put India and Pakistan in opposition directions, face-to-face, here at Husseiniwala the border is at an angle. Thus, it provides a far better view of the ceremony in comparison to Wagah-Attari where very little can be seen of the opposing side. And the crowds sit much closer too and can make out faces in the opposing stands.
Of course, there is the usual dose of Jeevey-Jeevey Pakistan, Nara-e-Taqbeer and Pakistan Zindabad and the retaliatory Hindustan Zindabad, Inquilab Zindabad (though no revolution is on these days) and Bharat Mata Ki Jai. Retaliatory because the Pakistani crowd was the first to raise the slogans and jolt the Indian side into a quick reaction.
Since the place lacks the baying-for-blood sentiment of Wagah-Attari, minor hiccups are allowed. Someone in Indian crowd mistakenly shouted Jeevey-Jeevey and, after a moment’s hesitation, someone managed to save the situation by shouting ‘Hindustan’.
Constable Manohar Singh, 27, with six years of service behind him is quite the favourite at Husseiniwala. A native of Pali, Rajasthan, he can lift his leg to a 180-degree angle before he thumps the boot down. Thumping down of boots is quite essential here too like in Attari-Wagah.
“I do stretching exercises in the morning,” Manohar says shyly when asked how he manages to do the seemingly impossible. It is God’s gift too, chimes Head Constable Satyapal. At 42 and with 22 years of service under his belt he is the one responsible for keeping things under control.
There is reason enough. In 2011 there was a fracas with a Pakistan ranger and BSF Constable getting into a fist fight in Husseiniwala. It can happen because unlike Attari, a BSF constable and Pakistan Ranger actually cross over into each other’s country to lower their respective national flags. So for about five minutes or so you are in ‘enemy territory’. Apart from this aberration, there is plenty of ‘Bhai-Bandi’ when it comes to coordinating for the ceremony. “Joint practice sessions are held in cordial atmosphere,” says Constable Dileep Kumar from Koderma, Jharkhand.
The parade is over sooner than expected. In the absence of the surcharged atmosphere of Attari, it happens with a suddenness. The Sunny Deol starrer Gadar movie song, “Main Nikla Gaddi le ke” starts playing on the loudspeakers on the Indian side as the crowd slowly files out. A few Pakistanis on the other side start jiving to the music amidst muffled laughter from Indians.
And if you are wondering what happend to the cat which transgressed the IB. Well, it went back to Pakistan the way it came in. With a border crossing ease which may never come to Indians and Pakistanis anytime soon.