Sunday, January 6, 2008

mini zamboni's on marble floors and 180 degrees border turnovers

We've been a few days in Amritsar now. Still in the gurudwara among the thousands of pilgrims, eating and sleeping almost for free for now. Bunch of freeloaders we are. Well, we do have the excuse of being busy enough filming and recording many things around the golden temple complex and the gurudwara's daily ways. Such as parades, like there was a big one a few days ago where kids of elementary and secondary school were dressed in either Punjabi or Sikh costumes and playing marching style band music. Thin whistles, dhol drums, karthals, trumpets and even bag pipes with an Sikh styled Scottish squared design on them in orange!
Also since the gurudwara here has a 24h internet cafe (which actually isn't really open 24hrs a day) we have been able to update the site, upload stuff like movies and photo's and even send longer e-mails to friends and family back home.

The communal eating while sitting on the floor with a pilgrims is good fun. It also strikes nice conversations with your neighbors or glazed looks from young kids. The menu is a basic one, with normally 1 or 2 main dishes that they scoop out in big sauce spoons when the food service men walk past everyone. Most of it is dal (lentils), either in yellow or black sauce. Our review on cheapo eating concludes that the black dal tastes best. Unlike Maarten, I like the kir plenty (plain rice pudding like grandma and aunties would make in olden days). The chappati breads however, are quite bland. To the extent that some batches are really hard as it made out of cardboard. The chappati's are actually machine made and processed so yeah, there you go. -when we ate simple crisp chappati's at a dim street corner the other day, we knew we weren't acting the spoiled westeners- Even the pilgrims find the chappati's nasty to eat and rather take heaps of rice with their grub.

To clean the eating floors of the residue of dal, kir and whatnot, they smartly are using small driving cleaners that sweep the floor, near zamboni style. Since a big number of Sikhs are living in Canada, I reckon that they might have introduced this harhar -bad joke. That aside, it's funny to have a lot of Canadian Sikhs around us who always come up to ask us in a crystal clear Canadian accent where we're from. "You're from Canada, right?" We'd ask them back. "Aww, how'd you guess ey?". Well, "ey?". (oh we just met a way tall Sikh dude from Turr-ono, right ey Aly, heehee ;)

A few days ago we have also met the most peculiar and neurotic music collector of old Punjabi and Pakistani folk songs, who holds a little grubby cassette shop taken over by dust and mice-gnawed old record covers. Earsational! Folk tunes over a heavy crackling of tape hiss into forgotten styles. The man pirates all these cassettes himself since they are not to be found anymore in India nor produced, let alone that anyone would master them into modern standards. So he does his bit to keep the music alive for those very few interested in it. We ended up sitting 3 hours in his shop, as he manically wanted to make us listen to every old cassette and unique lost style that he could find. Out of utter chaos and no order but which seemed totally logical to him (hmmm sounds familiar, such music nerdism eh?)
Soon we'll put up a short clip of him here.

Today we have been at the Wagha border, gateway to Pakistan. We took a bus from Amritsar and drove through the village of Attari before stopping. Straight out of the bus we got hawked by every young local person asking us if we wanted coke or pepsi, some tikky or crisps, a border ceremony dvd or cd, this or that. Anything. It was kind of insane this sudden manifestation of border tourism. Even the Indians got hassled, no scrutiny in selection whatsoever. Small plastic Indian flags or cardboard caps were being sold so that the spectators could support *their* side. Before we had a quick talk with some Pakistani tourists who were on the way home from a 2 week travel in Indian. They all came from Islamabad, the city right next to Rawalpindi where Bhutto got murdered. They told us that all is calm again now in Pakistan and that the riots where isolated incidents over a few days.
Soon the first gates went open and we had to walk through a 1 km corridor up to the big border gates for the ceremony. Army officers were trying to put us into the stands, but we cleverly walked around their back and up to the main iron gate where we even managed to get past an officer walk for some quick snaps, look and touch of the gate and get a clear view of the Pakistani side.

The whole ceremony is about soldiers on both sides strutting around with their feet raised high up in the air, stamping their feet on the ground and shouting a lot of commands. We found this command sounding like the way sports commentators scream *goooooooool* in Brazil, so we mimicked this to annoy the Indians. Which we succeeded in. On both the Pakistani and Indian side they have built high ranking stands so they can bring in spectators. The spectators naturally scream for *their* side. Such is the pride of nationalism, isn't it great? At first we didn't know what to expect but as the show went on, it proved that it wasn't done out of envy or hate, but rather out of curiosity for each other's side. No nasty gestures, shouts or abuse was sent to the Pakistani side and probably neither came from theirs. Respect carried out in a peculiar showcase of booming sounds, hindi dance pop versus pakistani vocoder pop tunes. The Indian women went down and were dancing among the soldiers on the ground before the strutting began. On the Pakistani side, there were a few bearded men running around in Pakistani flag kurta's, waving flags. No women dancing there, they were all congregated together on the right side of the stands but were all waving their hands and seemed to sing along to their tune. Strutting on both sides commenced, fierce steps towards each other. The Indians dressed in khaki with red, the Pakistani's in black with red. People on both sides clapping loudly. Also military or holy music on both sides and interesting enough, every side stayed quiet for the other's sound of music and audience. I made some great recordings of that, not to mention all the great footage that Maarten has shot. The end of the ceremony was that of the flag lowering. Both flags had to be lowered equally down, so that one would not rise above the other. Signification goes a long way. That was it basicly. The Pakistani tourists that we spoke earlier were waiting on a little detainment field to be let through and we waived each other goodbye, as if they stepped into another world not to return. For us Western Europeans, scenes like borders only seem a thing of the past or more like a distant memory monument indicating an invisible line that now with the EU only exists on paper and maps. Having witnessed a border crossing in this setting, it makes you realize that for some nations it still are very sensitive -and real- lines.

Important update, we have just decided to go to Pakistan! 180 degree turnover indeed. Please friends and family don't be alarmed despite our previous promises of not going there, but that what we have heard the past few days has only been positive. Like what the Pakistani tourists told us today, the fact that we met other western tourists on their way to Pakistan -today at the border ground even a white Canadian family with 2 infants who crossed over-. Also the story of a Polish guy that Maarten met was interesting, as he was in Pakistan during the Bhutto assassination and stayed for 1,5 week more without any problem whatsoever. No fear, abuse or in any danger experienced. So why should we chicken out if others prove it safe now? We will linger a week or so more here in Punjab as we will go to Ludhiana and Chandigarh to do things, before getting our visa in Delhi.

till the next update.

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