Wednesday, October 27, 2010
On the absurdity of borders
McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh,
Finally! Good Coffee. Nice little place with free wi-fi, and serves HUGE breakfasts. To top it all off, they’re playing YES!!! At this very moment, I am convinced, that one of two things will happen; either Mike zooms by in the “Yellow Rocket” or Moncho strolls in and shows everyone his socks.
On a more serious note, a simple observation on the absurdity of borders.
Two days ago, Zach de la Rocha’s long lost brother took 8 of us, crammed into a mini-bus, to the India-Pakistan border at Attari/Wagah. A short 45-minute journey to bare witness to what, I have the impression, is a unique event. The surprisingly effusive lowering of the flags ceremony and closing of the border gates between two neighboring states. Until the creation of Pakistan in 1947, what are now two separate countries were just one land united by geography and common history that dates back to the dawn of civilization. Following two centuries of British occupation, The Partition occurred, and each has taken their own path. Ever since that fateful day in the summer of 1947, they have been continuously bickering with each other. Be it over religion, land, nuclear capacities or a simple game of cricket, they’re always at it. Taking it a step further, every day, at sundown, a huge demonstration of patriotism ensues for thousands of Indians and Pakistanis to scream at the top of their lungs and display their nationalist fervor. Soldiers in pompous uniforms show off their high stepping and engage in a sort of screaming contest. In my eyes, this event stands somewhere between a rock concert, a political rally and a sporting event. Sitting next to us witnessing the spectacle is Kuba, a really cool Polak, who has been over-landing from Poland and had just reached India via Pakistan on that day. The day before, he had attended this ceremony on the sexually segregated Pakistani side (Indian side not sexually segregated, only separation is locals and foreigners, although that is also the case in the Paki side). In the breaks between the screaming soldiers and the roaring crowd, Kuba giggles and spurts out comments like “ they’re doing exactly the same routine” and “I think the Pakistanis cheat because you never see the guy doing the screaming. It must be a recording”. And to these comments we laugh and simply enjoy the show. But, Kuba’s comments bring me to my point. I found the whole thing quite absurd. These people are pretty much like brothers and sisters, I mean, for Allah and Krishna’s sake, they were the same country until 63 years ago! OK, yes, they belong to different religions preaching the same “love thy neighbor” paradigm that neither seems to get, but what is the need for a border because some pray austerely to one god 5 times a day and the others worship 330 million gods like its 1999? And of course all these thoughts are hours after visiting the Golden Temple, Sikhism’s holiest site…but as my friend RAT-G would say, that’s another 20 bucks.
Fast forward through 24 hours. Dinner and sharing impressions with a brother and sister from Argentina. Sleep, pack, shower, breakfast, check out, and cycle rickshaw to the bus station. Up to this point it had been planes, trains and sleeper buses, but now, it’s the real deal Holeyfield…CHICKEN BUS! Three hours to Pathankot with a Sikh driver, dagger and all, that drives like a maniac and has what appears to be a magnetic attraction between his right hand and the horn. Mind you, I’m sitting in the first row and see everything coming straight on. I’m scared, to say the least, but we make it in one piece. Quick transfer at Pathankot; sweet lime juice and a samosa. (Tangent to inform what is blasting on the café speakers as I write: “Hold me closer tiny dancer!!!”). We hop on the bus to Dharamsala. 3 more hours going up the foothills of the Himalayas, on a tiny two lane road full of trucks and buses. Twists, turns, swerves and switchbacks as we climb. We make it to Dharamsala. The guys at the taxi stand try to play a trick on me and I feel obliged to give them a quick tutorial on Puerto Rican cursing. Quite cathartic. Finally, we catch the bus up to McLeod Ganj. The bus ride is short, but we’re packed like sardines. And just when I thought that not even a fart could fit in the bus, 10 more people squeeze in. Through the dense fog we zoom and arrive at a dark bus station. Strap our bags onto our backs and stumble out into the darkness.
We head up the hill towards the town, and when we get there…WE’RE IN TIBET. Another history lesson to explain why. In 1950, China went in to “liberate” Tibet from the grips of their nomadic and agrarian past and lead them into an industrialized future. Years of turmoil, bloodshed and futile negotiations followed. In 1959, fearing for his life, Tenzin Gyatso aka The 14th Dalai Lama, the religious and political leader of the people of Tibet, flees to India and establishes a government in exile in Upper Dharamsala. A steady trickle of Tibetans has since followed His Holiness on the treacherous trek over the Himalayas and into India. Here they have set up shop. It is noodles, chop sticks and Buddha. No more cricket on every TV set. They watch futból! (Man City-Chelsea on the TV of the guest house lobby when we arrive…NICE!) But, back to the lecture at hand. There were no border police doing crazy marching and screaming. No “Welcome to Tibet” signs. It just happened. And honestly, thank Buddha Chakyamuni it did. The people are very nice, laid back and kind. The air is clean and the mountain views are spectacular. The food is really good, especially the momos (veggie-filled dumplings, steamed or fried). And I can immediately relate, because in my heart I also carry a flag without a country. A culture and a beautiful spot on this earth to live, but without the power to call the shots. In the end, we just keep on moving, we thrive, since country is not a geo-political state, but a state of mind. FREE TIBET!