Archive for May, 2020

20
May

PANJAB: Review in Sikh Research Journal

   Posted by: aman    in Punjab

Sikh Research Journal
Vol. 5 No. 1, Spring 2020

Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines
by Deepak Kumar
Punjabi University, Patiala, India

Destinations are about completion of journeys, finding answers and getting settled. The journeys, however, yearn for something more. They are about exploring further because they are about continuation. Bangalore-based journalist Amandeep Sandhu’s journey to his native land is one through which he tries to understand the enigma that is Punjab, the subject of the book. Born and brought up away from Punjab, but always tethered to its ethos and spirit through his family, Sandhu visited Punjab to explore the familiar only to find the uncomfortable gap between the reality and the representation. He spent three years collecting material for the book. It should be noted that the author prefers to use ‘Panjab’ with ‘a’ after ‘P’ instead of the popularly used ‘u’ in order to highlight the Persian origin of the term. To avoid any ambiguity, this review,
however, uses the official and standard usage which has been used by almost all the books published on Punjab in the few decades.

Popular imagination links Punjab with farming and that is the thread chosen by Sandhu to begin his story of Punjab. Starting with the problems of farmers in rural Punjab the author gradually unravels the institutional mesh that explains what he observes. His data is drawn primarily from rural Punjab and involves juxtaposition of contemporary case studies with historical facts. The descriptive account of village visits by the author animates one’s understanding of contemporary rural Punjab. Thus, Sandhu’s account of Punjab is an autoethnographic one, focusing on a rural perspective. By extension, it is an emotional journey through which he explores his roots. The author chose to develop sixteen chapters based on sentiments and concepts that presumably echo the condition of Punjab. Consequently, he chose local terms as chapter titles which would likely make any Punjabi person connect with the book. The titles begin with Satt (wound), ‘berukhi’ (apathy) ‘rosh’ (anger), ‘rog’ (illness) ‘astha’ (faith), ‘mardangi’ (masculinity) and ‘dawa’ (medicine) followed by ‘paani’ (water), ‘zameen’ (land), ‘karza’ (loan), ‘jaat’ (caste), ‘patit’ (apostate), ‘bardr’ (border), ‘sikhya’ (education), ‘lashaan’ (corpses), and ‘janamdin’ (birthday). Thematically arranged chapters can also be read individually. Gradually, it becomes evident that the more he explores Punjab, the more he comes across the ‘faultlines’ that mar the social fabric of the state and society.

Sandhu narrates a story of Punjab with angst which may not be very amusing for many. The book brings into relief the fractured relationship between state and Sikh community in Punjab. It ponders over repeated institutional setbacks that Punjab has suffered over the years in addressing some of its most fundamental problems. The author infers that the agrarian issues of Punjab are at the core of Punjabi society and the solutions of the same cannot be provided by neo-liberal policies of the state. The very state which has been the wheat basket of the country stands today at the brink of impending environmental crisis, which threatens to leech its soil of its nutrients, land of its water and people of their agency. The identity politics of Sikhs became a pliable tool in the hands of leading political parties in independent Punjab, and they have been exploiting the sentiment to the maximum for their limited political gains, offering only ‘band-aid fixed’ solutions to its recalcitrant problems. Revisiting the tragedy of 1984 and its aftermath, which haunt Punjab’s collective psyche till date, the author feels that the failure of the state to address the issues that emerged during the phase of militancy has further deepened the crisis of Punjab. Ironically, the facts related to the unfortunate events during that phase still remain twisted and contested, which also find resonance in author’s accounts. The author poses some difficult questions to the state, to the Punjabi community and to himself in order to make sense of the tragedy.

Sandhu’s story of Punjab is replete with instances of wasted opportunities, betrayals and apathy on the part of state, resulting in the burgeoning trust deficit between the people and the state. Amidst this crisis, the advent of Aam Aadmi Party in Punjab politics aroused hopes among the Punjabi people, including the diaspora, hoping for a better life in terms of health, education and other infrastructural facilities. However, as a party rooted in Delhi, its inability to understand the complexity and ethos of Punjab proved to be its nemesis. Reflecting on the ethos of Punjabi society, the author recognizes the feudal character of Punjab, but doesn’t explore its roots deeply. Though he devotes a separate chapter to caste, rightly bringing forth the struggles of dalits for agricultural land, his diagnosis of the problem demands more explanation. The section on education also highlights a few issues but is very limited in its scope. While recounting the rich cultural heritage of Punjabi language shared across the international border, it would have been interesting had he discussed communalization of language and culture in post-independence Punjab and removal of Urdu as a language from the school curriculum. The question of women in Punjab also remains marginal in the book, which the author also acknowledges. But, given the scale of issues discussed, it is challenging to fully assess all issues pertaining to Punjab in a single volume.

Yet, his attempt to understand Punjab in its entirety rather than in parts makes the book more meaningful, but also challenging. Most of the books published on Punjab in the last three decades focus primarily on Sikh identity politics. Sandhu’s book tries to go beyond this narrative and opens up the canvas of Punjab for a wider understanding, without sidelining the identity issue. Sandhu’s advantage is his focus on the contemporary situation of Punjab unlike many other books which focus more on its historical and cultural heritage. Sandhu’s peek into the history is only to understand the present, which remains his focus. Compared to some of the recent books on Punjab written by scholars such as Rajmohan Gandhi, Harnik Deol, Pippa Virdee and others, Sandhu’s work places more emphasis on his ethnographic experiences rather than his secondary readings. He uses journalistic language and avoids jargon. The format further gives latitude to the author to avoid repeated references to secondary sources of information, which makes the book read like a novel. The author aims his book to be read by an audience wider than in academia.

Overall, while Sandhu made his own journey to Punjab in order to discover what Punjab means to him, his subjective accounts invite others to make their own visit to Punjab and search for their own interpretations. The author’s observations and analysis may not be shared entirely by many but one cannot deny that the issues discussed do reflect the pain and aspirations of the Punjabi people. His honest attempt at a critical engagement with Punjab and some plain speaking make it an interesting read, and invites many others to enter the debate. Thus, the book rightly sensitizes the reader to the complexity of Punjabi society
in contemporary times.

Westland Publications, 2019,
Xvi+560pp., $15.99 (pb), ISBN 978-9388754569

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20
May

Sepia Leaves: Reader Comments

   Posted by: aman    in Sepia Leaves

Dear Friends,

on Mother’s Day this year, Jaya Nigam posted her comments on Sepia Leaves. As I said earlier, even 13 years after the book was published, every few weeks I get one or more messages about the book. The book evokes personal memories. It continues to live in the readers’ hearts.

I love it that Jaya has written in a language other than English – the language in which the book is written. Thank you Jaya! My respect to Jaya’s Mausi. May she find peace.

Click image to enlarge.

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13
May

PANJAB: The Book Review

   Posted by: aman    in Other

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.

13
May

Inaugurating The Panjab Dialogues

   Posted by: aman    in Punjab

Dear friends,

When I took up the work on PANJAB: Journeys Through Fault Lines, I had hoped I would be able to converge diverse and eclectic Panjab on one tract and it would serve as the basis of future conversations. Many in Panjab and elsewhere know much more about the current realities than me but the issue is we do not come together to dialogue. I am so glad that wish of mine came true. Thank you Manu Oberoi, Preeti Gill, Jasdeep Singh, Ankit Chhabra and teams Sanjhi Sikhya, Majha House, Kirrt, on May 2, 2020 we launched a platform: The Panjab Dialogues.

I am grateful to friends mentioned above that they chose PANJAB as the inaugural text. After all, its chapters explore the fault lines of Panjab.

THE PANJAB DIALOGUE inaugural event went very well. 136 participants, many more than had registered. Preeti introduced the Dialogues until 6 minutes. I spoke on the book until 55 minutes. Jasdeep collated the questions from the audience and we had a Q&A until 1.17.45 minutes. Then Ankit and the participants experimented with break-out rooms and more responses until 1.38.00 minutes. After which Preeti concluded the session.

Personally, the session was very satisfying for me. Please see more here …

One of the artists, Sharada Kerkar drew her impression of the session.

Very graciously, The Tribune covered the idea. Please see more here …

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