Archive for December, 2019


Punjabi Tribune Review – PANJAB

   Posted by: aman    in Punjab

Dear Friends,

in the last weekend of this year, Panjab gave me a gift. It is the review of Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines by Yadwinder Singh in the Punjabi Tribune.

I am translating the review into English and will share it soon. I find it great that a book in English is reviewed in the language of the society, community, region it depicts.

Thank you!

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The Panjab Matrix

   Posted by: aman    in Punjab

Dear Friends,

before I begin work on a new book, I clean up my room and re-arrange my bookshelves and books in them. I was doing this recently as during writing Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines I was much tied up with the draft.

While cleaning, look at what I found!

I had developed a matrix of the content for the book. Love it!



Medical Professionals on PANJAB

   Posted by: aman    in Punjab

Dear Friends,

here are two short reviews by medical professionals on my book Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines. I love positive reviews, I learn from critical ones, but medical professionals have a special place in my heart.


The book Panjab – Journeys Through Fault lines by Amandeep Sandhu begins with a preface which shows how Bhindranwale’s face, attire, flowing beard, blue turban transformed into iconography for all time. The book then makes a passage through the leftist Satnam’s house to the BKU movement against the incumbent government before heading to the travails the state has meandered through since partition.

The division on the lines of language, the moment Indian army entered the Harmandir Sahib instead of looking at other options and thereby searing a deep festering scar on Sikh minds, the Bargari treason and its mis-handling, the fall from grace of the SGPC, Akalis etc and the fascinating tale of how Nehru first used Article 356 to impose President’s Rule on PEPSU state when Gian Singh Rarewala led the first non-Congress party to power. Later Tara Singh said Nehru should not be allowed to speak at the Jor Mela and Tarlochan SIngh (later chairman National Minorities Commission) along with other students of Mahindra College prevented Nehru from speaking and were arrested for 36 days before Tara Singh intervened and got them off!

It (the book) talks of the syncretism of Punjab still visible in the worship of Peer babas, temples and also our inherent contradictions i.e. the divisions – the caste system still a mammoth elephant in the room, the gender skew, the drug epidemic, the political ineptitude over the agrarian crisis etc.

Poignantly written, one can feel the building up anxiety of the farmers as the whitefly cotton crop disaster and later the yellow stripe rust destroying the wheat crop causes the loan crisis which Punjab and other states are reeling under with no end in sight.

It (the book) even dwells on rising and untalked about impotence and Buprenorphine. Unfortunately, the book mentions and as some believe, the cure for addiction to “chitta” is not an addiction in itself. A person once addicted to opium usually (but not always) keeps relapsing and so Buprenorphine helps to keep them off and in many cases reduces harm. Of course, there are some, (benefit outweighs this though) who end up using high doses of buprenorphine but mostly it has a ceiling effect and is not misused as you do not get a high with it like Heroin etc. However, the book does talk of how the NDPS needs revamping, banning opium and bhukhi is not the solution but part of the problem.

Coming to one of the biggest current and future problems i.e. water and how again villages like Khassan which have won awards for water conservation are not being replicated in other villages. The book covers Zameen, Jaat, Borders, the Missing of Punjab (for that Ram Narayan Kumar’s work needs a read).

Go through two chapters in a week. Take time to read the book to really understand it.

An important piece of work, Amandeep, thanks for it.

Simmi Waraich, Psychiatrist, Chandigarh


Took a while to read Amandeep Sandhu’s Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines. It is a book one has to take time to read & absorb. It made me pensive at many junctures. I took breaks & came back to it after a while.

A real labour of love by the author. His writing is refreshingly honest & unbiased, as he presents the origins of the expanse of current problems faced by Punjab very logically, & highlights solutions to them. (Is the government listening?). He takes us along with him on the journey across the state, our home, and with him we experience the angst & the real heart of Punjab.

I wish him all the luck for this book and am waiting for his next one, hopefully more on Punjab :) I shall be there in the queue for my copy! This is one of the books I will keep with me & also buy copies for others (another book I did that with was Atul Gawande’s ‘Being Mortal’… one of my all time favourites).

More power to you Amandeep Sandhu & best wishes! Jeendey raho…khush raho!

- Aneeta Minhas, Singapore

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BLink: To Punjab, homebound journeys

   Posted by: aman    in Punjab

Dear friends,

Jona Ray and I met up one evening at Khan Market and talked books and the writing life. At that time she was reading ‘Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines’. That someone is reading your book is such a pleasure for a writer.

Here is Jona’s write up on both me and the book in today’s The Hindu Business line.

‘When my editor suggested I begin with the photo [that is on the book’s front cover end leaf], I cried. I knew that I had found the beginning of my book.’

Thank you Jona and Rihan Najib. Please read more here …

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Bangalore International Centre Launch and Discussion

   Posted by: aman    in Punjab

Dear Friends,

last Sunday morning, Arundhati Ghosh engaged my editor Karthik Venkatesh and me in a discussion on Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines at the Bangalore International Centre.

If I were to say it myself, it was a very good session. That is what all who attended also told me. Dear Karthik Natarajan tried to live stream the event, I saw his hands go numb holding up the camera, but sadly we could not save the footage. Thank you Ravichandar Venkataraman and Raghu Tenkayala for your very kind hospitality.

Here is the BIC’s recording, please click here …

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Panjabi Tribune Author Interview PANJAB

   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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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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Reader Compliments – PANJAB

   Posted by: aman    in Punjab

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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