Archive for the ‘Punjab’ Category

Dear Friends,

Almost 15 years back Karthika Vk (my publishing editor) and I had spoken about the need to write the biography of each state of the nation. At that time we were seeing the effects of neo-liberalism and recognising that the new economic policy had also brought many miseries in its wake. This was much before BJP had come to power with an express Centralist policy or before the current Covid-19 contagion had revealed how broken is our public health systems.

PANJAB: Journeys Through Fault Lines is a result of that conversation. That is why I am glad that after reading the book, reviewer Kiranjeet Chaturvedi, who manages Write & Beyond, says: ‘I also look forward to many more such in-depth books being commissioned about other states.’

I feel particularly satisfied when Kiranjeet says, ‘What happens in Panjab is both an experiment and a lesson for all of India, in so many ways. In that sense, this is a book for all of India, and also a manifesto for all its dreamers. Will we learn from the tragedies of Panjab?’

This is the most detailed view with chapter summaries I have seen until date. I know these are hard times yet I am sharing the review so that at some point more of us can read the book. These days the hard copy version of the book is temporarily not available. However, the Kindle version is available on Amazon.

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Panjab – Journeys Through Fault Lines
By Amandeep Sandhu

Book Review No. 1, March 2020

This book has taken me a very long time to read. 540 pages is not a small number, but the reason for my lingering through its pages is not just the quantum. It is the nature of the story being told in them. It is a story I feel I know, and do know, yet have been blind to. I didn’t feel I could do justice to the epic nature of the book but here I am attempting a summary and a very personal review.

Amandeep has journeyed through Panjab over many years, collecting testimonies and facts, researching history and context, meeting numerous people in villages and towns, learning anew about a place that was almost – but never really – home.

He is an outsider, because he doesn’t live in Panjab, and he is also an eternal insider because of his roots. The story he pieces together is a journey of a deeply personal nature for him. I found that it is also a very personal journey for me. As I read the book, I was travelling through my own family history, paying renewed attention to the stories I have heard growing up, replaying my own memories and encounters with Panjab in my time there, and reexamining my experience of being a Panjabi who is mostly outside Panjab.

Panjab’s story in the world’s popular imagination is a collage of stereotypes. It is a flimsy palimpsest of impressions and feelings about the place, infused with smug indulgence, ignorance and indifference. Amandeep’s book comes as a reality check, and fills many gaps in knowledge about Panjab. It was at times impossibly harrowing to read, because denial and forgetting comes easy to us, specially when it is about things no one questions us about. But I feel I am in a better place to speak as and be a Panjabi, having read this book.

But looking at this book as just an exploration and a narrative about Panjab would be too narrow a reading. If it tells us anything at all, this book tells us about so much that is typical of our times, of our way of government and politics and economics and systems of justice. It tells us that the story of Panjab is far more than the story of just one state. It is the story of India and its past and its future.

Panjab has been and is a physical frontier – for India as an ancient geographic location, and for India as a modern nation state. It is the place where armies clashed, and races mingled. Syncretic and subversive socio-cultural and political movements have emerged and sustained in this shifting soil of a marginal borderland. Change and resistance mark the region and its people. No borders have stayed fixed here for long, not even its most marked physical features – the rivers.

What happens in Panjab is both an experiment and a lesson for all of India, in so many ways. In that sense, this is a book for all of India, and also a manifesto for all its dreamers. Will we learn from the tragedies of Panjab?

Amandeep classifies his stories of exploration and discovery under sixteen heads, using Panjabi terms. Each of these sections become the lens through which the current situation regarding a key issue is viewed, and its historic context and unravelling is understood. I will list these heads here, with a short explanation, because they evoke the mood and the content of the book very well. Each section is like tributary that flows into the others and together all these strands of stories make up a complex narrative of Punjab now, and in the recent past, with a lot of insight into an earlier history as well. Throughout the narration. Amandeep weaves in his own memories and his personal stories into the flow, and we join him on the rediscovery of his roots and his forging a new connection with, and understanding of, Panjab.

Here is a brief overview of the sections of the book. These may look like a litany of wrongs, but the only way forward through a knotty place is to face the tangled web. Easy explanations will not do for Panjab. Nor will treating it as an isolated and idiosyncratic case all of its own kind. Panjab holds lessons that are universal. I am sure readers of this book will have many an enlightening, insightful moment as they go through the book.

1. Satt – Wound; The author’s memory of Panjab, and the gaps in his connection to it, is a personal wound. Panjab is itself wounded. The phantoms in the room are unacknowledged, unaccounted for.

2. Berukhi – Indifference. Follows from the idea of a wounded people, a wounded land. Agrarian mishaps are tools in political games, with grievances rarely addressed. The state and its farmers and workers in a face-off cannot bode well for sustained wellness for anyone.

3. Rosh – Anger. Along with old wounds that religious minority holds, anger builds up over new incidents of religious sacrilege. Beadbi becomes yet another arena for political manipulation and scheming, which has plagued electoral democracy and the issue of religious purity, identity and representation. Hurt turns to anger, and finds no resolution, no hearing, no closure.

4. Rog – Illness. Anxiety, depression and despair, addiction and denial. Panjab is not well, but it put on a brave face and pretends, or it goes into punishment mode. What is not done is a facing of the traumas of the past that feed the present.

5. Astha – Faith. One of the most complex chapters of the book for me personally, this is where the author tries to untangle to knot of the phase of militancy in Panjab, and the links between politics and religious identity in a modern secular federal nation state that is India. How did a faith based on universal brotherhood and fraternity and service become a cornerstone of a violent movement? What led to the violent reprisals from the state? How was the political economy of Panjab and India linked to these developments? And then, it goes on examine the erosion of democratic institutions that all of this is a sign of. Where and how is one to have faith in the promises that underpin the nation, when there is a lack of accountability and no reckoning for bias, betrayals and memoricide?

6. Mardangi – Masculinity. The macho male ideal persists in Panjab’s imagination even as it withers in a reality. Violence to women, children, those at the margins and to the land persists. Sexual dysfunction plagues men with big moustaches and bigger cars. Humiliation and shame shadow marriage and sexual relations. The degradation of the land, livestock and diet with pesticides and fertilisers and hormones, the change in a physical culture and the use of medications for bodybuilding have all taken a toll on the virility of the land and its people.

7. Dawa – Medicine. Drug Addiction in Panjab has made news in the post-militancy years, but the issue is not a sudden scourge on an otherwise pristine canvass. Amandeep goes into the maze of old cultural practices and modern twists in the tale of alcohol and narcotics use in Panjab and shows us how the punishment model in use is self-defeating.

8. Paani – Water. The water problem in the land of five rivers is a tragedy of geo-politics and rapacious economics played by hegemonic powers- the imperialists first and then the national government. The people of Panjab have been reduced to litigation and protests that lead nowhere.

9. Zameen – Land. In a region that is the country’s breadbasket and has always been agrarian, land means more than just a place to build a home. Land rights have been a matter of death and wars since forever in Panjab. The modern nation state promised economic justice and land rights but has struggled to implement the same.

10. Karza – Loan. Farmer loans and farmer suicides are linked to bigger issues of industrial agrarian economics, caste, politics and human rights and justice. Panjab with its culture of bravado and show of self-reliance suffers acutely when faced with no way out of financial insufficiency.

11. Jaat – Caste. Punjab, the land where egalitarian Sikhism originated, has the largest percentage of Dalits among all Indian states, and practices blatant caste-based discrimination. This is a caste conundrum that contradicts every tenet of Sikh religion.

12. Patit – Apostate. A fascinating section on the growth and consolidation of Sikh practices and texts and their interpretations, and the growth of organisations that are seats of control and direction for the faithful. Organised religion naturally faces divergence and factions, and there are followers who find their own unconventional paths not strictly as per the norms of a centralised and organised creed and its gatekeepers. Then there is the fear of appropriation and loss of a special, unique identity due to the forces of the other, external dynamics of politics and culture. There is also the decadence of those who claim to represent the true religion and corporates style control of the faithful and their institutions.

13. Bardr – Border. The people of Panjab are truly caught in the pincer – literally and otherwise – in the event of a war on the western border. Not only are the Indian armed forces supplied by many men and women from Panjab, it is also the state with a continuous land border with Pakistan where border skirmishes and past wars have caused much death and dislocation and disruption of life in every way. And yet, these people and their land and livelihood scarce seem to figure in national security calculations as worthy of care and precaution.

14. Sikhya – Education. I grew up hearing many jokes about the genial but unlettered Sikh bumpkin who had no brain power. In reality, I have only found most Panjabis of modest or poor means – like most such Indians – desperate for economic and social mobility through education. But education remains a messy affair in Panjab, where unemployment remains high, and the exodus to foreign shores causes immense loss of human resources. Universities – bar one – have had no elections since decades and can scarcely be the training ground for democracy or constitutional values. English is all the rage, though badly spoken and barely understood by most.

15. Lashaan – Corpses. Hindi films and Punjabi pop culture showcase exuberant bonhomie and joi de vivre as hallmarks of life in Panjab. Panjabis are known as brave and resilient and Sikhs in particular revere the tradition of martyrs, where death is a moral victory. Yet, for the last many decades, a pall of death has fallen over Panjab and with it, a shroud of silence too. These violent humiliating, unjust deaths and disappeared bodies have marked millions of homes across Panjab.

16. Janamdin – Birthday. This last section before the Epilogue is about the last assembly elections and the near lack of fresh vision and alternatives that is electoral contest in Panjab. This chapter also serves as a conclusion to the journey the author has traversed. It is a sobering expose and an affirmation of faith in Panjab’s resistance to power and hegemony.

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Amandeep’s book is a work of immense depth and reach, and superbly researched. Written with painstaking detail, I am sure it will soon be known as a classic of documentation and serve as a valuable archive. All of us – no matter what our identity or roots or geographic lineage and location – will have much to learn and resolve, after reading this book. I also look forward to many more such in-depth books being commissioned about other states.

31
Mar

PANJAB: On Goodreads List

   Posted by: aman Tags:

Dear Friends,

On March 23rd, I got a Goodreads email alert telling me PANJAB: Journeys Through Fault Lines was on a top reads list.

Dear Friends,

I remember many years back when I was talking about my second book at Jamia Milia Islamia, a young man asked me a question: ‘Would the people you write about find themselves in your books?’

This is a question about reality vs representation. There are many genres of writing, many kinds of books, and each of them is important. It is just my intention to write about real people in real time.

I looked at the young man carefully. He was from Kashmir. I wondered if he ever feels his stories have been told. If he finds himself in those stories through which the world knows Kashmir. So much of our reportage, our writing, is about mis-representation for political ends or just out of ignorance.

I answered, ‘Yes, I hope so. You might not be able to identify the people I talk about because I often mask identities. But the people I write about can find themselves in my stories. I try to capture their essence. I may fail, but I try. At least, to not lie.’

One test of my writing is not just that I promote it, but the people who I talk about mention it to others. That people adopt the book, even own it, talk about it. The word of mouth travels.

That is why I am glad that now PANJAB: Journeys Through Fault Lines is being recommended by The Sikh Foundation International, USA. I recently received their news letter from Sonia Dhami with a list of excellent readings on Panjab and the Sikhs. My book is mentioned among other good ones.

Please see more here …

Dear Friends,

ealrier this month, on March 12th, just before the Covid-19 contagion spread scare, the Prabha Khaitan Foundation invited me through The Write Circle to speak on PANJAB: Journeys Through Fault Lines at ITC Rajputana, Jaipur.

This invitation was from eminent publishing agent Mita Kapur of Siyahi fame. Mrs Simrat Sandhu aka Mini Sampatram facilitated the discussion. It was a great pleasure to meet lovely people and form new friendships.

Here are some reviews of the evening in Times of India and other publications and some photos.

A first! Never had hoardings displaying me and the book title.

Mrs Simrat Sandhu aka Mini Sampatram in discussion.

 

 

Dear Friends,

normally The Times of India does not talk about books but Chandigarh Resident Editor Ms Sarju Kaul read PANJAB: Journeys Through Fault Lines and we did an interview.

It appeared today nationwide, all editions. I woke up to calls from my neighbour, messages from my university friend from Delhi, from Kolkata, from Mumbai, Jaipur, Bhubaneshwar … I am so pleased.

‘I believe Punjab needs to reclaim its Panjabiat, which derives from the language of the land of Punjab, both sides of the border. Panjabiat embodies the eclectic nature of the people and is the shared culture of the cauldron, which is the antithesis of fascism or narrow political boundaries.’

Please find the interview here…

Dear Friends,

Thanks to Punjab Today here is a fuller piece on Panjab Police chief DGP Gupta’s statement published yesterday.

‘Gupta’s bias remains and shows how the Sikh aspirations remain an expendable quantity in the national discourse and are abused in the fight for the DGP’s chair in Panjab.’

Read more here …

Dear Friends,

often books are known by their titles, subjects and writer’s name. However, the fact is there are many people who make the book. On Friday night I was happy to meet the three people who have held the book from idea to production to sales.

My chief editor Varthika VK, my editor Karthik Venkatesh, and my support editor Ajitha GS. We missed Gautam Padhmanabhan who owns Westland and made the book possible and Kanishka Gupta, my agent.

 

Dear Friends,

Art, any art, is a matter of seeing, experiencing the representation of reality. I have a simple definition of strong art – not good or bad art – but powerful art.

It is this: the experience of art causes a shift in the reader, audience, recipient from how they feel/think before they encounter the art to after they encounter the art.

Though many readers and reviewers have mentioned this earlier, in this super short review of ‘PANJAB: Journeys Through Fault Lines’ by Richa Mendirtta states this upfront. For better or for worse, PANJAB has caused a shift in how the reviewer now sees Panjab.

‘The only regret I have is, I would never see Panjab in the same way anymore.’

Please read more here …

Dear Friends,

I love it when an iconic bookstore such as The Bookshop, Jorbagh, New Delhi recommends my book on Instagram.

I love it that the shop has chosen to highlight the book as one talking about Conflict Zones. That is the central argument of the book – a need to acknowledge Panjab’s multiple conflicts and re-orient ourselves to look at Panjab as a post-conflict zone and adopt a humane process to engage with the region, people and state. The Bookshop gets PANJAB.

I am not on Instagram so thank you Guneet Kaur for pointing it out to me.

Dear Friends,

I love it that St Joseph’s College, Bengaluru, is conducting Meta 2020 – a month long series of talks and interviews with writers, poets, editors. This helps students and staff interact with literature in small doses and gives each of us ample time to communicate, hold conversations.

Last evening, I was in conversation with the lovely and razor sharp Arul Mani at the Loyola Hall in the Joseph’s Auditorium Block. It was such a long way from when I used to audit Arul’s sessions on film studies in the late 90s.

Thank you Arul and St Joseph’s. Notice the poster in the background: that is about Jamia students protest against CAA/NRC. Me likes the student solidarity.