Theatre of the Absurd
31.10.2010 30 °C
While possibly politically incorrect, we’ve previously equated revered cultural events with sporting conflicts. Our excuse is that some spectacles are so bizarre that they deserve a touch of ridicule. However, the international cross-border gate-slamming match that takes place here every evening is taken so seriously that we dare not lampoon it. Here are the spectators on the Indian side …
Roughly ten thousand people show up for every game – many travelling the 30 kilometres from Amritsar sardined ten deep into motor-rickshaws designed to carry three. We took the VIP taxi with just eight adults, a child, and a hot-rod driver. Sheila’s fearful shrieks alarmed the other passengers but didn’t faze the driver.
As the Pakistani spectators filled the stands on the other side of the border our team took to the field. Here they are –the All India Gate Slamming Champions 2010.
But wait …the referee has spotted a hitch…the border gates between India and Pakistan are already closed. No problem. To the deafening cheers of the Indian supporters, a couple of female team members quickly rush to open them. Now we can see the opposition – and a fierce lot the Pakistanis appear. This could be a tough match for the Indians, (who actually prefer to be called Hindustanis).
A super-enthusiastic MC whips the crowd into a frenzy with chants of, “Hindustan forever,” and India take the first point by slamming the gates shut again. Now, in a scene reminiscent of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the two teams vie for points by out silly-walking each other. The lanky players march towards the gate at break-neck speed while stopping occasionally to kick their foreheads with their right feet – honestly, (and unbelievably). The crowd goes wild with shouts of, “Hindustan for ever.” While, at the other end of the field we hear the Pakistanis’ response. We like to think they’re shouting, “Pakistan forever,” but in view of the cross-border animosity between these two teams we’re not sure that it isn’t something rude.
Here's the moment when the gate slams - exciting isn't it?
And then, after several minutes of posturing and nasty face pulling, both teams viciously haul down their flags, the captains shake hands, and, to an enormous roar from both ends of the stadium, they slam the gates shut. That’s it: match over – the border is firmly shut for the night. God knows who won, but our lot, the Indians, certainly feel that it was their game, and we all race back to Amritsar in triumph. Sheila’s shrieks of alarm at the numerous near-misses were lost in the medley of jubilant horn blowing – a good time was had by all.
One international gate-slamming event might be enough for any tour of India, but we’re gluttons for punishment. So, a few nights later, we accompanied our Indian relatives to the border 200 kms away in Firozpur, where the ritual was repeated. However, the border with Pakistan has been completely closed at Firozpur for 40 years, so, when the guards on each side puffed out their chests, pulled threatening faces and fiercely kicked the air in an attempt to intimidate each other, we had difficulty not laughing. But then, what had been just an amusing entertainment at Amritsar became a total pantomime when we realized that there was no border gate – it was like watching the World Cup Final being played without a ball. After a few minutes of goose-stepping around like prize cocks the soldiers must have realized the futility of the exercise and they quickly pulled down their flags and stomped off. That was it – the border which never opens is now closed. It was a draw – but don’t worry, the soldiers and the crowds will be back tomorrow, (and the day after etc. etc.etc.). They’ve only been doing it since 1947 - who knows if a winner will ever emerge.