A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke bread with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at his home in Raiwind, not far from there, tens of thousands of Indians and Pakistanis massed at this border, like they do everyday, to participate in the daily show of hostility at the gates closing ceremony.
All through the afternoon, an estimated crowd of over 35,000 hurried towards the border at Attari-Wagah to see the sunset parade, in buses, cars, autos, cycle rickshaws and on foot, clogging the highways and the toll plazas on the way.
They were not disappointed, not even those who had to be content with watching it on a screen outside the overflowing stadium. The goose step-kalari kick-foot stomp drill, topped with the angry rooster-like shake of the head, was as popular as ever. The cries of “Bharat Mata ki Jai”, and “Pakistan Murdabad” that rose from the purpose-built stadium were as full-throated and aggressive as always, and reciprocated measure for measure by the crowds across.
But at this confluence of India-Pakistan hostility, people from as far apart as Delhi, Pune, Rawalpindi, Lucknow, Jammu, Amravati and Lahore also praised Modi and Sharif, saying the two leaders had taken the right step, and gave a thumbs-up to their efforts for neighbourly peace.
“It was a nice surprise, good surprise,” said a man from Lahore about Modi’s surprise visit. He was taking photographs with his family at the border post, a few metres to one side of the gates.
A Pak Ranger and a BSF constable stand guard at that point, a few feet from each other with only an open fence separating them. After the parade, Indian and Pakistanis flock to this post for the chance to have a close look at each other and take a keepsake photo with the other side as background.
Today, as on other days at this spot, the adrenaline-charged flag waving of the previous 30 minutes was replaced by much curious staring, hesitant smiles and waves of the hand.
“Look at their suits, so pretty,” said a woman to her friend on the Indian side about a gaggle of women on the Pakistani side.
“Want peace with India, good move by your PM, it was nice that he came,” said a woman who was there with her family from Rawalpindi.
Sagar, a young man from Pune who had come to watch the ceremony with his wife, said Saturday’s meeting was a “positive development, very good news”. He said he did not view Sunday’s border closing ceremony as an ironic contrast to Saturday’s bonhomie at Raiwind. Nationalism, he said, could not be wished away.
“In the world, nationalism is still important, but it has to be in a globalised way. Nationalism should be positive, it does not have to be directed against another country,” he said.
Tushar Gupta, a 23-year-old engineer working in a multinational at Delhi, said he had heard that Modi went to Lahore. For Rs 20, he had got painted an Indian flag on each cheek. “I think he made a good gesture, there could be peace, everyone wants a (India-Pak) cricket match. I think they should make the effort, but we also need to ensure that no terrorists come and spoil it all.”
Ram, a consultant from Mumbai, was there with his wife, two daughters and his camera.
“Modi made a good move, there has to be peace between the two countries,” he said. “But when peace comes, please don’t write that they must to stop this show. This parade is not about hostility, it’s like a ceremony, like the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, or the ceremonial remembrances in Washington on Veterans’ Day.”
From Amravati, a bunch of selfie-clicking engineering students were emphatic that the Prime Minister had taken the right step.
“When we are going for peace, it is definitely better than fighting. It will bring a good product,” said Ujwal Ramekar, in the third year of his engineering course.
His classmate, Poonam Katle, said the show at Wagah border was not about hostility. “Actually it is a symbol of India-Pakistan unity because of the synchronisation of the parade from both sides”.
Another classmate, Brajesh Soni, said people came to watch the parade to show the unity of the country, and their solidarity with soldiers, not because they wanted war with Pakistan. “Here we can show our love for our nation. But who needs a war? All people want to do is live well, earn money for their family,” said Soni.
Sudhir Dikshit, an executive in a cement company in Delhi, said Modi had done well to take forward his predecessor’s initiative.
“The previous Prime Minister did a lot, but Modi is taking it further — it was an extraordinary initiative, it will create good atmosphere between India and Pakistan. I hope this problem will be sorted out in Modi’s tenure. This is the best time,” said Dikshit, “and our politicians and public should support him”.
Dikshit said just like the Bangladesh enclaves agreement, “we might have to give something to get something with Pakistan, but at that point, it should not become a political issue. Everyone should support”.
Among the dozens of people The Sunday Express spoke to, only one said Modi should not have gone to Lahore.
“We need to take a strict stand against Pakistan. I don’t think fighting with Pakistan is the solution, but we shouldn’t go for peace,” said Aditi Sareen from Jalandhar, as she showed her three-year-old child the sights of the parade.
“All these people are Indian, and there, can you see them, they are all Pakistani. See that gate, baby, after that is Pakistan,” she said.