When describing my spiritual life to two church-going friends, I included the sounds of tennis balls I hit often from sunset to darkness at a clay court overlooking a small pond dotted with Canadian Geese honking and snuggling down with their lifetime partners. We are always joined by the cooing of mourning doves in the trees settling for their evening’s rest and the high-pitched cries of two peacocks—one a widower— calling for sorely-missed mates. How many people play tennis to the pleas of peacocks?
So imagine how startled I was to see within a week a newspaper article titled Peacocks at Sunset. It describes the “world’s most spectacular border ceremony,” between India and Pakistan at dusk each day as goose-stepping soldiers from each side lower their nation’s flags in an hour-long ballet of choreographed contempt, for there is enormous hostility between the two sides of what is viewed by the hundreds of cheering spectators as a sports contest that is some kind of venting of undisguised rage and resentment.
I have been to Kashmir and passed the truckloads of soldiers. I have seen the remnants of gardens of the Mughal Emperors who ruled there in glory and excess. I have read about the tourists beheaded there after I departed. But I am moved more profoundly by the athletic exertions of these border guards bedecked like peacocks and displaying nightly like magnificent birds. I am awed that these tall, bewhiskered soldiers who oversee a road that services only a few dozen people each day can contort themselves with pride as they carry out their roles in a dance that substitutes for battle. I am saddened that decisions by stupid diplomats (who in 1947 divided Pakistan from India) and the leaders of these warring nations resulted in the deaths of one million people and the relocation of 12 million refugees in both directions, so they could be with citizens of their own religion.
What hope is there for humanity, when you witness this ongoing distrust and understandable allegiance to religious and tribal culture? But at least the ceremony substitutes for continued conflict and killing and is enjoyable as spectacle and even sport. Here also is a humorous video by John Cleese that unintentionally ridicules the soldiers’ serious drama.