Archive for the ‘Other’ Category

13
May

PANJAB: The Book Review

   Posted by: aman

Dear Friends,

The Book Review, Volume XLIV, Number 5, May 2020, carried a review of PANJAB: Journeys Through Fault Lines by novelist Radhika Oberoi. Thanks to Adnan Farooqui for allowing me to share the review.

Chronicles of a Resilient State

The tenor of Amandeep Sandhu’s Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines is established in the very first chapter titled Satt–Wound. The author, born in Rourkela, admits to only a fragile link with Punjab (spelt Panjab)–his family once belonged to the State. He then provides images that are intimate and distant, uniquely personal and universally familiar all at once: brass vessels with either of his parents’ name engraved on them in Gurmukhi, a whiff of desi ghee in a frying pan, photos of Guru Nanak, Guru Gobind Singh and Bhagat Singh in the living room, his father’s (Baba) turban and his mother’s (Mama) salwar kameez.

The author’s gaze is that of many different people—son of the soil, curious traveller, hard-nosed journalist; his portrait of his Panjab is also gleaned from each of the people he becomes, as he embarks upon his three-year-long journey into the State. His schizophrenic Mama could never offer him a lucid narrative of the Panjab she had left behind: ‘The Panjab I heard in her lap came out rambling. Its love and war legends splintered and turned into a volley of abuse.’

Sandhu, whose narrative often meanders into history, dwells on mythology, and pauses to search his memory for flashes of childhood, never rambles, or loses coherence. This, perhaps, is what is most admirable about the book. While each of the sixteen chapters is titled with clinical precision (Berukhi—Apathy, Rosh—Anger, Rog—Illness etc.) and foretells the author’s journalistic preoccupations; there are deeply personal anecdotes that turn the harsh terrain of Sandhu’s investigations into landscapes of beauty, and even profundity. For instance, he embarks upon a road trip to his ancestral village, Manawan, together with his wife Lakshmi and his cousin Minnie, because his wife reminds him of his Baba’s last wish. Before passing away in Bangalore in 2003, Baba had wanted to go to Anandpur Sahib, Amritsar, and Manawan. While he had visited the former two sacred sites of the Sikhs, he was unable to travel to Manawan, his birthplace. ‘As a tribute to Baba, Lakshmi wanted to start life with me from his village by completing his story.’

Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines is strewn with personal histories that amplify the collective troubles of the State. In the chapter Dawa—Medicine, Sandhu recalls a handsome grand-uncle whom everyone called Rumiwale Mamaji. Green-eyed and muscular, he was in the habit of pulling out a bottle of liquor and pouring himself a Patiala peg in the early hours of the evening. Sandhu, who was barley seven or eight years old, was assigned the task of filling the glass with water, and supplying his uncle with a variety of nuts, and chicken, as accompaniments to the alcohol. In the mornings, Sandhu would bring him a concoction of milky tea, which he would consume with a small black paste, rolled into a ball. ‘A cousin said it was afeem.’

The chapter is an exploration of Panjab’s addiction to intoxicants like opium and poppy husk, as well as home-brewed alcohol, but it isn’t a mere enumeration of dismal statistics. In fact, Sandhu attempts to debunk a remark made by Rahul Gandhi at a rally in Panjab University in 2012. Gandhi is believed to have said: ‘What is happening to human resources in Panjab? Seven out of ten youths have the problem of drugs.’ Sandhu undertakes an investigation of the route for opium exports in the 1980s, and its infiltration into Panjab. He meets smugglers in Gurdaspur, Dera Baba Nanak and Tarn Taran and delineates the problem of drugs with facts garnered from a variety of studies.

There are no conclusive findings, or satisfactory solutions to the malaise of drugs and addiction, or to any of the other socioeconomic-political predicaments that Panjab has dealt with. But in Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines, Sandhu sets up an apparatus that probes, with a rare attention to the topography of the land, its myths, folk traditions and songs, the State’s many quandaries. His narrative is also dappled with the light of oil lamps at tube wells and ancient graves. The sound of the ‘moolmantar’ from the Granth Sahib wafts through his prose like a soft breeze, even when he traverses hostile landscapes. There are meals of sarson ka saag and rotis that nourish more than just his weary body at the end of a long day. Fragments of a legend—the doomed love of Sohni and Mahiwal—scatter across an otherwise dispassionate analysis of the politics of water. And memories warm the pages of cold-eyed chronicling: ‘During my childhood I could spot hand pumps everywhere in Panjab, including one right opposite the home where Baba’s extended family lived. In our fields, three in the city market, more in the old town, one between the railway station and the bus stand, hand pumps were a part of the locality. Not anymore.’

The Panjab that emerges from Sandhu’s observations is tantalizingly different from the Panjab of his childhood. It is also one that does not conform to popular images peddled by Bollywood—sprawling mustard fields, and hyper-masculine men leaping to the beats of a dhol. Sandhu’s Panjab is as distinct as the spelling the author has picked for his chronicles. Rihla, the Arabic travel memoir of the fourteenth-century wanderer, Ibn Battuta, mentions a land called Panj Ab—the land of five waters. Sandhu borrows from Ibn Battuta, even as he knows that the land of five rivers is not the glimmering and bountiful one that fascinated the ancient traveller.

Radhika Oberoi works in advertising and moonlights as a journalist. She is the author of Stillborn Season. She has a postgraduate degree in Creative Writing, Prose Fiction from the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom.

Dear Friends,

Kanwar Manjit Singh has been kind to push me to flesh out my mid-night ramble. Punjab Today has published the piece.

Here I appeal to Bengaluru to join the protests against NPR/NRC/CAA at Bilal Bagh.

‘When together, humans have a tendency to cast away the miasma of impending doom and seek each other out through smiles.’

Please read more here …

Dear Friends,

On this Republic Day, we need to engage with how we think about citizenship: is it through our lived experience or some bureaucratic papers?

Here is my piece for Indian Express. Thank you Amrita Dutta for the opportunity.

The piece brings to light a different experience of the Sikhs in Odisha and Chattisgarh in the year 1984 and is a homage to the civil servant who saved my parents. Thank you Gagan Bains, Kulvir Singh Dhiman, Hardaman Singh.

Please read more here …

Dear Friends,

Punjab Today has been kind to pick my morning post on the significance of the anti-CAA/NRC protests all over the country, update it with the Supreme Court judgement today, and publish it as an article.

Thank you Kanwar Manjit Singh.

Please read here …

In an excellent inter-community educational initiative, the Bengaluru based Rahmath Group has initiated a Mosque visit for people from other faiths. This visit is to Modi Masjid, Shivaji Nagar.

Bismillah e Rehman e Rahim.

Here is me in my Amanullah avtar. 

Please read more here …

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 …

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 …

Here is the recording of the session, please click here …

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.

Dear Friends,

poet, writer, and critic writer Manash Firaq writes on a Facebook post:

Amandeep Sandhu writes on his lack of belonging to the land of his foremothers in, ‘Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines’: “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 with Panjab.”

This is a fascinating point of entry, for a writer who wants to write about his not-so-imaginary homeland. Sandhu does not prioritize his identity as a reason behind his embarking on this project. Identity is an umbilical cord that is not merely physical, or even psychic. Identity is sought, self-contested, found and lost, in time. It is never to be taken for granted. Identity is a condition of being in the world. Like Dr. Anirudh Kala said, from writing on his schizophrenic mother in ‘Sepia Leaves’, Sandhu turned his attention to his schizophrenic ‘motherland’. But the schizophrenia in the passage quoted above is not of intimate memory. It is the schizophrenia of systems – “bank statement, Aadhaar card, passport or land ownership” – that territorialise belonging.

Sandhu, in a radical move, disinvests himself from those schizophrenic markers of belonging that the state thrusts upon us. Those markers too are fault lines through which you claim your relationship to a land and the land claims you. To be outside that claim is risky, and a danger, if you are still claiming a relationship. How to claim a relationship from the “outside”? We have been living this predicament since the 20th century, of how an identity that is part insider and part outsider, undergoes a partial sense of apology. It is also inflicted upon them by so-called “culturally rooted” people, who force them, in the words of Zygmunt Bauman, “to prove the legality of their presence”. It’s a fiercely political question of our times.

Sandhu makes an even bolder confession that may disinherit him from any claim to Panjab: lack of memory. Memory, we thought, is fundamental to belonging. Sandhu claims –and proves through his book – that it isn’t. This is another radical move by a writer who is writing about the land he historically belongs to. If not memory, then what is it? By writing the book, Sandhu has given us the answer: labour. Sandhu reconnects with his roots, not through memory, but labour. And labour is as much about love, as memory. This idea is very liberating for any understanding between writing and belonging and the relationship between belonging and history. Refugees and migrants, who belong to places through labour, have equal claims to belong to a place as natives, who simply sentimentalize identity. It is not that labour does not have memory. But labour does – adds – something more to memory. Labour “makes” memory. This is how we must henceforth understand our relationship with land and place, and claim it. It is time we stopped prioritizing the colonially constructed, nativist theories of belonging.

Sandhu also, again quite politically, refuses to situate identity within a security network. Identity, we thought, was also about securing for oneself, every marker of citizenship. Sandhu tells us, identity that is free of security networks is also identity. Identity, in this liberating sense, is outside the very idea of security.
Identity is not LIC (Life Insurance Corporation). It is not insurance for security. Identity is free. It is as insecure as being in the world. And something else – it is being in the world as other. It is to “risk” one’s identity: the oldest, ethical argument to be in the world. Sandhu writes a book on Panjab as other.

[At the Conference Hall, Bhai Vir Singh Sadan, New Delhi, 16/11/2019.]

——

For now I am basking in the kind reading by Manash. I will discuss more with him soon.

Dear Friends,

here are my views on the Ayodhya verdict. Thank you Puttezhath Sunil Menon from Outlook India for seeking them.

‘An important aspect of the Ram Janmabhumi-Babri Masjid court order—itself not signed and, hence, unattributable to any one judge—is that it quotes the Sikh Janam Sakhis in great detail to establish that the disputed 2.7-acre land of Babri Masjid was indeed the place where the mythological Lord Ram was born. In the order, Guru Nanak is mentioned 14 times.

A common charge levelled until now on the Janam Sakhis is that because they were written at least half a ­century after Guru Nanak left for his heavenly abode, they are hagiographic and mutually contradictory. How then did the honourable Supreme Court overnight decide they are among the most reliable evidence?

The intent is even worse: using one minority religion’s sacred texts to ­refute a claim of another minority and establish the claim of faith of a third majority religion is insidious to the secular fabric of our nation. The Janam Sakhis should not have been used ­because Sikhs are not party to the claim. The court needed to test the grand Hindu faith against archaeological evidence. That it did not do. Instead it has now sowed further seeds of ­discord between the Muslim and the Sikh communities.’

For this I owe thanks to Kulveer Singh and Ch Monsoon who flagged the issue.

For more comments read…

In the 1950s, the city of Bengaluru decided to create Jayanagar – Asia’s biggest housing colony. On a square grid, the 9 blocks of Jayanagar came up with tree-lined roads as crosses and mains.

In the 1970s, the Bengaluru Municipality decided to create a beautiful market complex in Jayanagar. They built a concrete multi angled shed roof shopping complex, with glass covered awnings for ample light; a four-storey office complex with arterial corridors, and a huge single screen cinema theatre called Puttanna, named after Puttanna Kanagal, who is known as Kannada cinema’s Chitra Bramha – God of Films.

On November 11, 1976, the first shop in the arterial corridor, next to Puttanna theatre’s parking lot, was allotted to a bookstore named Nagasri. When I arrived in Bangalore over two decades back, I started frequenting the Jayanagar market complex to buy flowers, stationery, masalas, and occasionally meat. Each time I would stop at Nagasri, buy a book or two. It was a lovely bond.

About a decade back, with the rise of multiplex cinema, the Bengaluru Municipality decided to pull down Puttanna theatre and build a multi-rise shopping centre to relocate the original market complex. The decision was to redevelop the market complex, read make a Mall or some such ugly building. The arterial corridors were covered. The multi-rise was ready five years back but was not inaugurated because first the complex shop keepers did not agree to be re-located, later political squabbling on who would inaugurate it. All this while, Nagasri being the first shop on the arterial corridor suffered blockade from two sides and the third side was taken over by footpath vendors who too had nowhere to go.

Today, when Nagasri sent me a picture of my book arriving, I went to meet Mr Venkatesh and Mr Guru Prasad
. The multi-rise is now occupied, the barricades are off, the shop looks restored to its pristine glory. Mr Venkatesh congratulated me for my book, and told me, ‘In this digital age (reference to Flipkart, Amazon and their discounts), we survived 8 years thanks to our clients and patrons. People who found it difficult to approach our shop, kept coming, kept buying, we stayed on.’

I wished them Happy Birthday. It is a pleasure to be at Nagasri Book House. Do visit. Do patronise small book stores. You matter, they matter.