Archive for November, 2019

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.

Tags: ,


IANS: Touching the heart, going to the soul

   Posted by: aman    in Punjab

Dear Friends,

here are the multiple coverage of the same interview with Sukant Deepak.

Please see IANS version here …

Please see IndiaCitlyBlog version here …

Please see version here …

Tags: , , ,


Millennium Post: Touching the heart, going to the soul

   Posted by: aman    in Punjab

Dear Friends,

the advantage of having an agency such as IANS do the interview is that it appears at more than one place. The same interview with Sukant Deepak also appeared in Millennium Post. Please see here …

I also loved the print page layout, below.


Tags: , ,

The Punjabi Tribune graciously covered the Bhai Vir Singh Sahitya Sadan, New Delhi discussion on the book Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines.

Here is the clipping.


Tags: , , , , ,


Outlook: Touching the heart, going to the soul

   Posted by: aman    in Punjab

Dear Friends,

I am so glad Sukant Deepak and I met up and spoke about Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines. If you remember, Sukant had earlier interviewed me while I was in the middle of my journeys – in March 2016. I am so glad the interview and book build on the same lines idea/representation vs reality of Panjab.

Thank you Sunil Menon and Outlook India for carrying our conversation without cuts.

Please read here …

Tags: , , ,

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.

Tags: , ,


The Wire review: Explores Punjab’s Convoluted Past

   Posted by: aman    in Punjab

Dear Friends,

I am pleased with the first detailed review of the book Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines. This is by Guneet Kaur Gulati, for The Wire, commissioned by Mahtab Alam.

I am especially pleased that early enough the reviewer uses a word my chief editor Karthika and I had decided to use for the book – panoramic.

Please read more here…

Tags: , ,


Outlook: Ayodhya Verdict

   Posted by: aman    in Other, Punjab

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…

Tags: , , , , ,

Dear Friends,

it was my honour to have a conversation with Deputy Editor, The Wire, Ajoy Ashirwad on Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines. Thank you Mahtab Alam for facilitating the interview.

Here is a comment by someone from the audience: ‘Someone should translate it into Punjabi and distribute it in every village of Punjab.I also request the author to gift one copy to Akalis and one to Amrinder…’

Please see here …

Tags: , ,


Nagasri – my small big book store

   Posted by: aman    in Other

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.


Tags: , , , ,