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Imagining Other Worlds at the India-Pakistan Border

There are two main ways to experience the border between India and Pakistan at Wagah: You can cross it through the trade route if you’re a trucker delivering goods or you’ve managed to secure a visa to enter—a difficult if not impossible task for most Indians or Pakistanis.

Or, you can attend the daily border ceremony, where soldiers on either side meet to lower their countries’ flags in an elaborate display of military pageantry.

From the India side, I head to the border ceremony, arriving first at a multilevel concrete parking structure. The anticipation builds as I get out of a taxi and join the droves walking from the parking lot to a football-like stadium.

It’s July 2022, and in a few weeks, both countries will celebrate their 75th anniversaries of independence from British colonial rule. The year 1947 also infamously marked the partitioning of the subcontinent, when British lawyer Sir Cyril Radcliffe drew a line on a map that sliced through the states of Punjab in the northwest and Bengal to the east. The actual movement of people across the borders happened between June and September 1947, spurred by news, rumor, violence, and disbelief. It was a top-down political division that took people who found themselves on the wrong side of the new border by surprise.

The Partition of India is considered one of the largest forced migrations in world history. Over 15 million made the journey, including members of my own family. Approximately half were Muslims crossing into Pakistan and roughly the same number were Hindus and Sikhs crossing into India. More than 1 million died or were killed along the way, and 75,000 women were abducted and raped.

You could say the crossing itself—violent and disorienting—brought the two countries into being.

I file into the stadium, expecting a somber affair. But the Indian Border Security Force guards stationed along the way seem surprisingly relaxed and friendly. Once I pass through security and reach the stadium grounds, the mood is lively. Vendors hawk chips, popcorn, and mini cartons of lassi and cold coffee. Fans, flags, and hats proclaim, “I Love My India.” People line up to have their faces painted with the tricolor Indian flag.

Inside, I’m overwhelmed by how loud it is: a mix of cheering, yelling, and marching orders alongside a never-ending soundtrack of national anthems and Hindi film songs. The crowd on my side of the stadium—mostly Indians but from all over the region, country, and world— shouts, “Hindustan Zindabad!” (Long Live India!).

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