Posts Tagged ‘Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines’


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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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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Indian Express Review – PANJAB

   Posted by: aman    in Punjab

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,

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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News18 Punjabi Interview: PANJAB

   Posted by: aman    in Punjab

Dear Friends,

I am so glad Yadwinder Singh (Karfew) interviewed me over the split nature of narrative between what are called ‘radical Sikh groups’ and the Left in Panjab. He asked do I increase their differences or bring them closer. I said the goal of resistance in Panjab is the human struggle for dignity, equality and justice. My effort through the book is to bring everyone close and together.

Please see the interview here…


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The Tribune Interview: To the place he belongs…

   Posted by: aman    in Punjab

Dear Friends,

The Tribune interviewed me before the Chandigarh launch of Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines.

He lists three major revelations for us as he launched the book in Chandigarh on Thursday. One, the very image of Punjab being the ‘wheat bowl’ or the ‘food bowl’ of the country was in for alteration. “While the state holds the precious title, the aftermath of Green Revolution and how it has destroyed agriculture is appalling.”  Sandhu’s desire to see if post-Partition, post-Khalistan-non-movement peace has returned to the state, results in disappoinment. “The discontent and the discord amongst its people are still so palpable.” What hit Sandhu the most is the need to escape that’s hard to miss. “Kite nikal jayiye (let’s go somewhere)—with everyone feeling claustrophobic in the framework of drugs and deras, no wonder migration seems to be the answer for most.”

Please see more here …

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Dear Friends,

reader and dear friend Maithreyi Karnoor whose novel in translation A Handful of Sesame has just won the prestigious Kuvempu Bhasha Bharathi Pradhikara book prize was inspired to write the following account of her visit to Panjab while reading Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines.

I share the Facebook link here and post below too.

Panjab, Journeys Through Fault Lines is a work of narrative non-fiction by Amandeep Sandhu. I’m not qualified to review this book. Neither am I from Punjab nor am I a student of Punjab Studies to have an informed say on this book. My only connection to Punjab is the fact that it happens to be one of the states that form the federal union that my state is a part of. That, and the high probability that the wheat for my lunch chapatti comes from Panjab.

I think a well-told story deserves other stories in response. It is one, and this is mine.

When I was little, I pestered my mother for stories. I would point at pictures—a caricature in a magazine, a photograph in a newspaper, an advertisement hoarding in the bus stand, a book cover—and ask her to tell me its story. I believed that every picture is there to tell a story. And my mother would turn into an ekphrastic artist on the spur on the moment. Since then, I only read books that have stories to tell.

The simple and elegant blue and white cover of this book features a directional billboard with a broken arrow pointing towards ‘Panjab’. I want to know why the name of the state is not spelt the official way (as Punjab). I understand that the shattered arrow indicates the fault lines the title speaks of. I want to know what these fault lines are.

I have only been to Punjab once. The organisation I worked for a year ago invited me to attend a seminar in Chandigarh. People presented papers and drank cups of tea (the coffee sucked). My colleagues and I did as much of the tourist circuit as we could in the two days we were left with after that: the golden temple, Jallianwalla Bagh and the Wagah border. I was moved to tears at the partition museum and walked on alone while some of my colleagues busied themselves with selfies. Hordes of tourists chattered on endlessly at Jallianwallah Bagh – a place that demanded poignant silence. I was sickened to the stomach by the riotous show of jingoism—complete with Bollywood music—at the Wagah border. I gave up every pretence of camaraderie when one of my colleagues—an employee of the woke organisation that is known to make tangible differences in the field of education in India—began cheering a burqa-clad woman made to carry the Indian flag. This person gave me a dirty look when I did not clap along. At the Golden temple that evening, I was awestruck by the sheer scale of the number of people fed for free and the massiveness of the place run like clockwork completely on volunteer work. I craved solitude and excused myself from entering the sanctum sanctorum by faking a period. I am certain the Sikh religion can’t care less about deeming natural body processes impure, but I was also certain that my fellow tourists would not argue against it. I sat alone, my head covered for piety, drinking in the sight of the dazzling dome lit by night lights and the colourful catfish frolicking in the sarovar waters close to where I sat. I shed a few silent tears for what the sight beheld – a place of beauty and grace, faith and service, but one whose history was awash in blood.

My colleagues came back complaining about being too late for the famed kada prashad. We boarded our rented SUV and headed back to Chandigarh. The driver played loud Punjabi pop music and as I covered my ears, I wondered about the contrary nature of my brief experience with Punjab.

On the way, we passed several vehicles carrying people dressed in Ramaleela costumes. The same colleague whose chest had swollen with pride at the sight of a Muslim woman’s patriotism for India made a derisive comment about the garishness of ‘north Indians’.

The next morning, we saw on the news that a train had ploughed into a Ramleela gathering near Amritsar killing hundreds of people.

My very brief brush with Punjab left me both shattered and fascinated. I wanted to know its story.

Then I read Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines.

I understood that the author had used the spelling Panjab to point at its etymology: as Panj+Aab it started off as the land of five rivers. After partition, it is no longer that. In that, it mimics India’s nomenclature where the eponymous river, Indus, is no longer a part of its geography. Punjab, the site of the green revolution, where the land was coaxed and coddled into yielding more agricultural produce than it naturally could has lost much of its water and its water table continues to plunge deeper. That’s the irony of its name. I knew this is the story I wanted to hear.

Each chapter in the book marks a fault line.

1. Satt – Wound
2. Berukhi – Apathy
3. Rosh – Anger
4. Rog – Illness
5. Astha – Faith
6. Mardangi – Masculinity
7. Dawa – Medicine
8. Paani – Water
9. Zameen – Land
10. Karza – Loan
11. Jaat – Caste
12. Patit – Apostate
13. Bardr – Border
14. Sikhya – Education
15. Lashaan – Corpses
16. Janamdin – Birthday

This is the exhaustive list of discourses through which ills plague Punjab according to the author, and he engages with the widely researched issue of each chapter through a personal narrative that infuses in it a poetic depth that dry data is infinitely incapable of. The constructive epistemology of this categorization is the key one must concentrate on in grasping its essence. The author’s mother suffered from cancer and cardiomegaly, and this book, a result of his endeavour to know Punjab, the land of his ancestors (he was raised in Orissa), compares the State to his mother’s body – as a land with a big heart but also one racked by many ills.

Through the warp and weft of fact and family, Panjab weaves a story that is at once deeply personal and widely instructive. While the book has much to say to a Punjabi anywhere in the world, it is precisely because of the nature of its narrative that I recommend it to readers who have nothing to do with Punjab – such as myself.

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