10
Dec

Panjabi Tribune Author Interview

   Posted by: aman   in Punjab

Dear Friends,

It was my honour to be interviewed by Swarajbir ji, Editor Panjabi Tribune, on Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines. Thank you Jasdeep Singh and Kuljit Bains. The interview is in Panjabi.

Please see an interview here …

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9
Dec

The Hindu: The land of many Anxieties

   Posted by: aman   in Punjab

Dear Friends,

I am thankful to The Hindu and Kishwar Desai for the review of ‘Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines’.

‘In a thorough exploration of the border state of Punjab, a writer goes looking for his roots and discovers an angst-ridden community’

I absolutely agree with Desai’s quibble on ‘a more detailed analysis of the status of women in Punjab’. This is what Urvashi Butalia also said to me personally. This is what I sensed, not only in the present book but even the earlier two books. This is why I request the women of Panjab to rise and tell their stories.

Coming to the review, I am sorry, The Hindu is now behind a paywall. Hence, here is a copy reproduced.

Panjab: The land of many anxieties

Kishwar Desai

DECEMBER 07, 2019 17:03 IST
In a thorough exploration of the border state of Punjab, a writer goes looking for his roots and discovers an angst-ridden community.

Following the opening of the Kartarpur corridor, there is cautious optimism in Punjab (or Panjab, as the writer Amandeep Sandhu calls it) and a promise of peace with our restless neighbour. But long before the euphoria ebbs away, and reality begins to bite, Sandhu’s book is like a wake-up call.

Legacy of Partition

Yes, the two Punjabs in India and Pakistan have a very tiny link through their joint spiritual heritage, but is there really anything we can truly be happy about? Sandhu has travelled along the fault lines of East Punjab — the Indian side — assiduously, bringing into this book the curious gaze of the outsider-who-belongs. Having lived outside the State for a long time, but with family connections, he can select the narratives which are most apparent, without getting too bogged down in detail, though he has clearly placed before us some fascinating facts. It is a brave examination of contemporary Punjab, within a historical context.

His central query is how Punjab’s development and political turbulence, over the years under various rulers including the British, impacted those who live here. How does the legacy of the past, such as the partition of Punjab, the events of 1984 and the militancy, continue to define it? It is a deeply pessimistic narrative as he finds a terrifying despair simmering under Punjabi pride.

The land of the five rivers is struggling with debt, casteism, unemployment, ecological degradation, loss of identity and much else — and most of this destruction has been a slow, historical erosion, possibly now reaching the tipping point.

Rural distress

For many of us who work in Punjab, the situation is not so relentlessly grim. But it is important to take heed when he discusses the haphazard construction, lack of civic facilities, a population bent over with debt in the rural areas, and the youth who are more often than not, experimenting with the latest chemical drug.

Perhaps the idea of Punjab is best envisioned by Sandhu’s friend, Satnam, who called it ‘claustrophobia’. Satnam’s “attempt to escape best describes this Panjab.” In fact, unable to escape the claustrophobia, Satnam eventually commits suicide, a final solution. Death lingers all over Sandhu’s book, whether it is in personal stories, about his mother’s cancer, or in the tales of suicides by farmers, or the prevalent caste violence, which resonates eerily with the recent brutal murder of Jagmail Singh at Sangrur.

Minor quibble

This book is the antithesis of our popular view of Punjab: endless fields of mustard; a bountiful food provider; wealthy Sikhs with opulent homes and fancy cars. The soldier and the farmer are the stereotypes we connect with Punjab. But Sandhu rips down the personal and the political make-up of Punjab and its psyche through a series of lively, but often dire, anecdotes, as he travels the State. He concludes that what we take for granted in Punjab is a chimera and that the reality is often too cruel.

My only quibble with this disturbing book is that in a few places, allegations are made which could be personal grievances, based apparently on interviews or newspaper reports. And the other missing element is a more detailed analysis of the status of women in Punjab, as the State’s gender balance is among the worst in the country.

But overall his journey is credible and authentic as he tours the urban and rural landscape trying to discover the real Punjab. He examines the historic reasons for the decay, even tracing the impact of the canal colonies under the British or the Gurdwara movement.

Punjabiyat at stake

His analysis of the long usage of drugs, in the past and present, or the rise of the deras or so-called religious societies or groups adds much to our understanding of the discourse on present day Punjab. Through deconstructing those aspects of Punjabiyat that the community holds as essential and possibly unavoidable, such as astha (faith ), jaat (caste ), mardangi, (masculinity), zameen (land), Sandhu captures a community in turmoil. He is not convinced that the political leadership can find solutions and frankly rejects those who have been in power thus far.

Linking historical narratives to the contemporary enables us to further understand the troubled State. My view of Punjab may not be so dismal, but it is books like these which will ultimately help us to re-examine the fault lines.

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Dear Friends,

while we await formal reviews, I am sharing some reader compliments on the book.

Eminent Historian Ramachandra Guha on Twitter:

Kulveer Singh on Facebook:

A book – “Panjab – Journeys through Faultlines” by Amandeep Sandhu… Well, where do I begin to say about it, except that this book sets the bar higher for all later books to follow on diagnosis of issues facing Punjab.

This book must in fact be made mandatory reading for all public policy decision makers of Punjab and Delhi if they really want to understand the root and the magnitude of the issues facing Punjab.

What sets this book apart is not only that it uses a personal anecdotal format to dig deeper into the history and state of affairs in the state, but it manages to single out, segregate and list all issues explicitly in an interesting way. If one is a Punjabi, one feels a lump in the throat; and i am sure even a non-Punjabi for once would feel the pain of Punjab even if for some part.

Also, what makes this book landmark, is the fact that it is not only a lament (a bit too much of a lament sometimes in parts, but that’s understandable given the personal touch and emotional quotient of the author), but that it also throws some light at the possible solutions as it seeks to shake Punjab and Punjabis out of their stupor of self-gratifying bombasticity. It took me a while to start and finish the book in midst of my official travels, and I initially reckoned it had a bit too many papers for comfort. But having gone through the book now, I feel it could have gone on and on to dig even deeper into the diagnosis and prognosis of the issues. Perhaps, an opportunity for the author to bring out sequels to his Herculean effort.

I hope Modi and Shah read this; I hope the Sanghis read this; I hope the Akalis read this and introspect; I hope Captain reads this and looks at the mirror; I hope the NRIs read this and introspect at their role in the mess; and I hope the Punjabis of Punjab read it; even as I hope the Haryanvis also read it.

More importantly, I feel this is one of the few books on Punjab that appeals outside the echo-chamber of Punjabis and reaches out widely to opinion makers, liberal intelligentsia as well as the right-wingers across India. This book belongs in every shelf of every personal and public library.

In fact, one is tempted to use the same spelling that the author Amandeep has used – “Panjab”, just to show unequivocal appreciation for the herculean effort and sentiment gone into penning this landmark book on the state of ‘Panjab’.

Kudos to you, Amandeep… Hats off to you. One surely can’t say turbans off, eh… :)

Karthik Nijhawan on Messenger:

Hi Amandeep, we have been friends on Facebook for a while but I never had a chance to interact with you. I have been reading your book, Punjab. And probably the most extensive research based book I have ever read on Punjab. I was born and brought up in Punjab but was totally unaware of the anecdotes and politics of our home state. Thanks to your book. A year ago I started the quest for my family’s religion. I was brought up telling that we are Hindus but all the customs and mores we followed were of Sikhism. I started digging my family’s history. Your book helped me a lot. Finally I figured out that we are Sehajdhari Sikhs. When I told my family even they were shocked. Thank you for writing this book. Hope to meet you whenever you come to Delhi next.

Madan Gopal Singh ji on Facebook:

There is such understated dignity with which the author keeps his personal pain in a state of near erasure…

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Dear Friends,

today the Business Standard has featured a review of Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines by Sai Manish.

I have earlier followed Sai Manish’s reportage in the Tehelka magazine. For most part, this is a very positive review. However, there is a twist which is reflected in the headline and in the partial treatment by the review on how the matter of Khalistan and Referendum 2020 is mentioned in the book.

Let us read the review which is otherwise behind a paywall.

Panjab’s Khalistan Destiny

Wise men say never trust an Indian to write the story of India. An outsider, the man who doesn’t belong, bereft of tendentiousness, partisanship and pre-conceptions is the one to be trusted to chronicle histories of civilisations without infecting it with distortions of a jaundiced mind. Amandeep Sandhu could well have been that man. As he himself says, “Unlike people born in Panjab who have a direct connection with, and hence a memory of the land, I have no liminal or tangible marker of belonging to Panjab. While my family did hail from Panjab, I was neither born here, nor do I live here. I have no address, bank statement, Aadhaar card, passport or land ownership to prove my connection to Panjab.”

Mr Sandhu’s “outsider” status, as he realises innumerable times during his journeys through the state has turned out to be a boon. For Mr Sandhu’s Panjab is a fascinating account of its economy, society, religion and its politics; a work of passion that chronicles present day Punjab like few authors of this day and age have done. This is not to say that Mr Sandhu has produced a completely unbiased book. There are instances where his communist leanings, his disenchantment with present-day Sikh theocracy and a dangerous preoccupation with the Khalistan
question are evident. But that doesn’t take away from the achievements of Panjab. This is essential reading for all those who wish to understand the state as it stands in 2019.

A near constant throughout the book is references to Punjab’s militancy days, the Khalistan movement and its protagonist Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. It extensively details the crisis the Sikh faith is facing; the very fight among Sikhs to define who can be called a Sikh. Mr Sandhu is ruthless in highlighting the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee’s (SGPC) role in fomenting a crisis in Sikhism through its exclusionary politics. The SGPC has over the years tried to keep Sikhs who have cut or trimmed their hair out of the organisation that manages religious affairs. Mr Sandhu reasons that this narrow definition of a Sikh was hurting the religion and polarising Punjab’s society. Mr Sandhu even offers a tantalising theory with a Hindutva design. He writes, “The RSS strategy in Panjab is not to get confrontational but facelessly permeate the Sikh ethos in such a way that one can’t make out if a phenomena is because of Hindutva influence or because of Sikhs not knowing their own code of religion well. Through history, the Sikhs have been known to do well against an enemy with a face. Now the opposition — Hindutva thought — has entered the Akali Dal leadership, the working of the SGPC and the very practice and day to day living of Sikhs, and the Sikhs are at a loss on how to deal with this new onslaught.” Mr Sandhu’s words may sound alarming but the recent killings of some RSS and fringe Hindutva group leaders indicate the existence of a threat perception against Sikhism.

While caste and faith are an important part of Mr Sandhu’s work, his observations on the state’s agricultural sector that delves into issues pertaining to land, labour, water, caste and migration are illuminating. He reveals through human stories the deep links between caste, class, debt, suicides and social alienation. He scrutinises the politics of water in the state, writes about the issues faced by those farming along the border fence and highlights the perpetual conflicts between Jatt Sikhs and the lower castes in a state that has the highest proportion of Dalits in India.

The reader cannot miss the fact that Mr Sandhu grew up listening to tales of forced disappearances, state brutalities and anti-Sikh riots and felt devastated by it. But that anguish takes a dangerous turn towards the end when he writes about the Sikh Referendum 2020 — an event being organised by US-based fringe group Sikhs for Justice. This referendum calling for Sikhs across the world including India to vote for a separate Sikh state in 2020 has been termed an Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) conspiracy by Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and called bogus by Harsh Vardhan Shringla, India’s ambassador to the US. Google took down an application created for the referendum earlier this year. Mr Sandhu writes, “Despite the questions on the viability of such nation states, any ethnicity, community or religion should have the freedom to decide on the constitution of its nation state. Nations are imagined communities and there is no point in living in a nation in which one does not feel that he or she belongs or where they feel their dignity self-respect, sense of justice and resources for a better life are not met. Khalistan is an aspirational nation state and there is no harm in conducting the referendum.” At a time when the idea of India is under siege, this is a risky position to hold.

—-

If Manish had just read the very next lines on Page 491 he would have seen that I support the Referendum 2020 because it is a right of the people to participate in any such Referendum. Look at how we did not allow a Plebiscite in Kashmir in the 1950s and where Kashmir is now after over a quarter century of a bloody engagement with the Indian state – under lockdown for over a 100 days with no resolution in sight.

However, and this is important, I question both the ones who have created the Referendum and the practical viability of a nation called Khalistan. Manish omitted this from his argument. Actually, Manish did read the next part, but he partially quoted the book to create sensation and chose not be balanced. Journalism is poor for that. That too the esteemed TN Ninan’s newspaper (1993 – 2009). From my days in The Economic Times in the late 1990s, I remember Ninan Sa’ab as a tall figure in journalism. Sad!

Here is the first para on Page 491 …

‘However, a new nation state does not depend solely on the desire of people. Will the demand for Khalistan succeed, and will a real Khalistan be possible, is open to the practicalities of how the nation state will be implemented. It also depends on geo-politics and whether such a nation state would be able to secure itself and provide its citizens basic amenities, scope for growth, justice and dignity.’

If you have an account, here is the link to the Business Standard story. Please read …

An image of the story here:

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Dear Friends,

it was my privilege to share stage at the Bangalore Literature Festival with Navdeep Suri, Manreet Sodhi Someshwar moderated by Preeti Gill.

Please see here a report on the panel discussion, follow the link …

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Dear Friends,

I found myself hosting a panel of six eminent writers, psychologists and psychiatrists at the Bangalore Literature Festival 2019.

I am providing the link to the session descriptions here, please have a look …

However, I am placing Dr Ajit Bhide, a beloved psychiatrist of Bangalore and my own doctor too here:

“Most wretched men are cradled into poetry by wrong
They learn in suffering what they teach in song…”

Attended a panel discussion at the Bangalore Literary Fest, titled ‘I’m OK You’re OK’ , dealing with Mental health and more specifically mental illness. Amandeep Sandhu, currently in the literary news for his new book on Punjab, (and whose first autobiographical novel Sepia Leaves dealt with his own mother’s illness and how he as a young lad, an adolescent and a man learnt to deal with it – and with life) was the effective and empathetic moderator. Others on the panel were Jerry Pinto (Em and the Big Hoom), Anna Chandy, Himanjali Sankar, Gayathri Prabhu, Roshan Ali, and Shyam Bhat. Shyam elaborated succinctly the importance of the narrative in the practice of mental health. The narrators themselves came from the raw to the mature but with crystal clear sincerity.

The panellists shared their angst about their respective disquiet, the youngest (Ali)about his discovery of his own turbulence, and two about their mothers’ illness (Pinto and Amandeep, the latter minimally, as he was a most conscientious rapporteur/ moderator). Sometimes there was the awkwardness of spilling the beans, making private matters blatantly public and the guilt that comes almost always with it.

Anna’s ( a much sought after and respected therapist) sharing of her personal perspective led to familial and social ostracism, and unexpectedly her clientele stood by her through this. She rightly brought home the point of equity between therapists and clients (I still prefer to call them patients); a truly humane stance, well appreciated by those who seek help. This resonated with the chosen title of the session: I’m OK; You’re OK.

Sometimes there was a cavalier air to it all, the note of the author being strident and rabble rousing. But in a forum dealing with the perceived ugliness of the mind of someone close, and the sensitive nature of the entire realm it is I guess, to be expected. Gayathri’s reference to her letter to her deceased father, was to me very intriguing and that is one work I want to read. Admixing fact with some fictionalising seemed to have found many takers, and Shyam also made the often missed point of the need to seek the subject’s permission to share her/his story.

The width of the coverage and the systemic method of the entire discourse rendered it a useful hour and half. Not an easy task given the tendency of delicate content to turn maudlin and meandering. This session teetered that way at times, but was saved from dropping off those cliffs.

For this credit must go in great measure to the seasoned moderation by Aman; and to the panel’s overall ‘stepping out and stepping forward’ approach. The auditorium was packed from the start and I believe so were most listeners’ minds by the end of the session.

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27
Nov

Delhi launch of Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines

   Posted by: aman   in Punjab

Dear Friends,

here is the live stream of the Delhi launch of Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines.

I thank Hartosh Singh Bal for not only facilitating the event but also mentoring me over the years, asking me to report for The Caravan. Thank you Karthik Venkatesh, my editor, for all your hardwork and guidance that went into making this book.

Please see the live stream here …

Note: since the event was in the IIC Annexe basement, the signal was a little patchy. Apologies!

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Dear Friends,

here is the brief and succinct Indian Express review of Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines.

Thank you Ishmeet Kaur Chaudhry.

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Dear Friends,

on November 24th we had a packed to capacity Majha House at Amritsar. The Tribune and local Panjabi and Hindi media covered the book launch and discussion.

Thank you Aman Deep, Bibi Kiranjot Kaur, Chiranjiv Singh and Preeti Gill for making the event possible.

Thank you everyone for attending, for discussing, for blessing and endorsing ‘Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines’.

Shukrana!

Please see here …

The next day, the Hindi newspaper Dainik Bhaskar covered the event:

The Panjabi newspaper Ajit also covered the event but got the title wrong – Fast Line :)

On November 26th the Hindi Newspaper Dainik Jagran carried a news on the launch event.

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Dear Friends,

some people are talismans, good luck charms.

Dear Nirupama Dutt ji is such for me. I am so glad on the last day of this Delhi, Chandigarh, Amritsar book tour her piece on my book ‘Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines’ has appeared in the Hindustan Times, Chandigarh edition.

Please find the link here…

It opens on the computer but some mobiles show the e-version of the newspaper. So, I am pasting the story as an image here. Download and enlarge to read.

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