Story and photography by Ray Waddington.
Photo captions appearing in this story are lyrics taken from the Yes song, The Gates of Delirium, which is an anti-war song.
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They came in their sarees, they came in their jeans. But mostly, they came in solidarity. Everywhere was a sea of orange, white and green. This kind of fever-pitch atmosphere is usually reserved only for high-stakes cricket matches and Bollywood movie premieres. It was Friday, February 15, 2019. The previous day had seen the worst terrorist attack in Indian-administered Kashmir in decades. The attack itself had been conducted by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed and word was that Pakistan itself was complicit.
The event takes place every day. It is variously known as the Attari-Wagah border closing ceremony, the lowering of the flags ceremony and the closing of the gate ceremony. Similar formal border closing ceremonies take place at other India-Pakistan borders, but this is the best-known and most popular.
It wasn't clear whether the ceremony had officially begun yet. A man dressed as a Border Security Force soldier appeared. I was assured later that all those taking part in uniform were enlisted. I never knew that the military had a cheerleader division.
He'd obviously done this before. On any given day the patriotism among the crowd is evident on both sides of the border. But as their Pakistani counterparts sat outnumbered and subdued, this man raised the patriotism among the Indian civilians into overdrive. The chanting became so vocal under his direction that the mood swung beyond mere patriotism: this was now taunting being directed across the border.
The iron gate that constitutes the border is already closed at the beginning of the ceremony. But soon a bus came through on its way from Delhi to Lahore. As the gate was opened the crowd paused its taunting. As the bus drove over the border we were all reminded that these are neighboring nuclear powers; as they considered how to respond to yesterday's attack, the stakes could not have been higher.
Eventually, the revelers were dispersed back to their seats among the crowd. Military men and women now descended from where they had been perched on high awaiting their time of glory. At least I was assured later that they were military. I now thought I was watching an episode of India's Got Talent.
What followed could best be described as the interplay of a military parade with a ceremonial competition. Alone, in twos or in groups, Border Security Force soldiers marched toward the border gate and their Pakistan Rangers counterparts. Along the way they gesticulated with arms and legs — or both — implying their country's military superiority. All the while the crowd cheered their short journey. On arriving at the gate they gesticulated more vigorously as they taunted the Pakistan Rangers — who by way of a mirror image were doing much the same thing.
The cheerleader was now in full flow. Freddie Mercury would have certainly done a better job, but his movements suggested either a common ancestry or at least a common movement coach. As the gate was opened he stirred the crowd into a frenzy reminiscent of the Live Aid performance itself.
The ceremony concludes once the two nation's flags have been lowered, the gate is closed and the border is officially closed.
Photography copyright © 1999 -
Ray Waddington. All rights reserved.
Text copyright © 1999 - 2020, The Peoples of the World Foundation. All rights reserved.
Waddington, R., (2019) The Gate of Delhi-rium. The Peoples of the World Foundation. Retrieved
May 25, 2020,
from The Peoples of the World Foundation.
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