Goose-stepping, eastern-style, during the joint retreat ceremony on the India-Bangladesh border on Wednesday. Picture by Sanjoy Ghosh
Nov. 6: The feet didn’t rise above the head. They kept to a “friendly” waist height.
The Border Security Force and the Border Guard Bangladesh today flagged off their first joint retreat in line with the synchronised drill on the India-Pakistan border, but the sunset ceremony at Petrapole-Benapole, 90km from Calcutta, was a “completely different” experience for those who have also been to Attari-Wagah.
Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and his Bangladesh counterpart Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir inaugurated the ceremony on the eastern border, aimed at improving ties between the neighbours.
Here’s a low-down on how the retreat ceremony — a drill where border guarding agencies lower their national flags and fold them in synchronised moves at sunset — went and how the two, the one in the east and the other on the western border in Punjab, differed.
At Attari-Wagah, where the drill started in the 1950s, the ambience is set with different patriotic songs being played on either side of the border, the loudspeakers on one trying to out-decibel those on the other.
“Even before the actual ceremony starts, the atmosphere is charged up as if we are going to witness an India-Pakistan cricket match live. But today’s experience was completely different,” said a professional who had been to the Attari-Wagah border and was witness to the inaugural session at the Petrapole border.
Today, both sides played the same songs — either Rabindrasangeet or Nazrulgeeti — keeping in mind the “pleasant relations” between India and Bangladesh, said a senior BSF officer.
If music is the prelude, what follows on the India-Pakistan border comes across as nothing less than a war cry because of the aggression of the guards.
Synchronised to perfection, 10 officers each of the BSF and the Pakistan Rangers, including a pair of women officers on each side, carry out the simultaneous drill, shouting commands, raising their feet higher than the shoulders and bringing them down with a resounding thud as part of the exercise.
Pakistan Rangers (in black) and Indian Border Security Force high-kick as part of the ferocious histrionics on the Wagah border. (AFP)
Every day, a crowd gathers on either side of the border to watch the spectacle.
The aggression — the thud of stamping feet, angry glares that the Pakistan Rangers exchange with their Indian counterparts or the orchestrated tweaking of moustaches that triggers a huge applause from the audience at Attari — was missing on the eastern border.
Eight officers on each side did the joint retreat with no women officers for just 13 minutes. At Wagah-Attari, the exercise lasts 32 minutes.
Attari scores when it comes to seating arrangements.
With a multiple-tier gallery for common people and an extended gallery of three-four tiers for VIPs — stretching close to the border from where the retreat ceremony can be seen best — the Attari-Wagah ceremony is much more audience-friendly.
Here, at Petrapole-Benapole, there are no galleries. People craned their necks from the limited number of seats arranged on either side of the ground.
The participants at Attari march through the entire stretch of the gallery. Here, the enclosure where the two sides perform is small.
“There are things that need to be improved. Today was just the first day,” said a senior BSF officer.
At Attari, you have to walk a few metres after a smooth drive of around 170km through National Highway 1, which connects Attari and Amritsar.
One needs to walk almost the same distance here, but the 90km journey from Calcutta to the Petrapole-Benapole border, through Jessore Road, is a nightmare.
The sunset, though, was friendlier.