In today’s world of jet travel and internet, personal boundaries are almost non existent and borders occur only on maps. However, we still like to believe in the old adage of “Good fences make good neighbours”.
The phrase comes from a very well known poem written by Robert Frost, called ‘Mending Wall’. It talks of how the wall that divides the poet’s property from his neighbour’s just won’t stay put. According to the poet, there is something in nature that hates walls. That is why everything from the springtime frost to summer heat to wild animals to their hunters tries to break down the wall; every year various factors, both natural and man-made, persist in trying to bring the wall down. Every year the poet and his neighbour diligently put the wall back up again. Because, the neighbour says, “good fences make good neighbours”.
As a child when I first read this poem, it confused me. Aren’t walls between people bad? Like the Berlin Wall, shouldn’t we be working to pull them down and not put them up? There are enough walls–both real and metaphorical–in this world that divide people. If somehow they are breaking, we should encourage that rather than build them up again. The last few years, in fact, have seen many such walls coming down. I mentioned the Berlin Wall that divided erstwhile East Germany and West Germany and that has now fallen unifying that great country; the cultural wall that divided Northern and Southern USA has come down after the Civil War and with it came down the loathsome practice of slavery, to mention a few.
Sure, some metaphorical walls e.g., those that promote cultural, racial and caste bias between people would be better eating dust. But there are some walls that are necessary; walls that allow people their own personal space, walls that encourage mutual respect are better left in their places.
Specifically in the case of international borders, walls are definitely required in order to make good neighbours. Had India guarded her walls better, Pakistan would have been unable to occupy a piece of Kashmir. That small piece of land now called Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir is a bone of contention between the two countries. We could have avoided this if we, like the poet, had mended our walls in time.
Some walls are good.
Some walls are essential.