The last time, I went to Wagah as one more of hundreds of tourists from both sides of the border. Every evening, they flood here to watch the elaborately choreographed ritual that is the lowering of the flags and the closing of the border gates. On both sides slogans ring out: "Bharat Mata ki Jai" on our side, and "Pakistan Zindabad" on that. Random folks pick up flags and run up to the gate. Young men lead the crowds in the slogan-shouting.
But it's all done in a cheery, festive mood; and the result is a spectacular spectacle.
This time, I went in the morning. No elaborate ritual, no slogans. Just a huge number of trucks parked on the road and off to the side, packed to the brim with crates. "Those? They're tomatoes going to Pakistan", said my driver, Tony, in the thickly Punjabi-accented Hindi I love listening to. And at the dhabas just before the Customs gate, milling crowds of truck-drivers and blue-uniformed men.
I sit down to wait, I've got at least an hour to wait. Order a chai, then another. Then something to eat, and I am served the fieriest paratha I've ever sampled, luckily with a large dish filled with cool dahi. All around me, the truck drivers sit, chatting and drinking and munching.
Suddenly there's a commotion. Someone has emerged from the gate with a sheet of paper. He's quickly surrounded by a knot of drivers, more joining the knot as he walks over to the gate pillar and sticks the paper there. Some drivers whoop in delight and hare off to their trucks, and there's quickly now a line of them barreling through the gate, some playing who-blinks-first to edge others out. The tomatoes are heading across the border.
Coming across this way, at least an hour later, are the men I'm waiting for. A long-retired Pakistan Army Major and his son. Now 84, the Major grew up in Kapurthala, in now-Indian Punjab. He used to play tennis at the club, and had a good friend in town. The Major left for Pakistan in '47, and has not returned since, being turned down for a visa several times. 62 years that he has not been able to return to his roots.
I'm here because I know someone in his family, and I helped the Major, in a small way, get his visa when he applied last week. So for the first time in 62 years, the Major returned home. I was proud to be there to greet him, happy to accompany him to Kapurthala, moved to see his tears when he saw and embraced his friend for the first time in 62 years too. The friend turned 94 today. It was important that the Major made it today. Both men have felt the pressure of time building against them, against their chances of ever meeting.
But now they've met. May there be many more such meetings, between many more old friends.
(More when I get the time).