PERSPECTIVE
A successful attempt to depict Panjab’s crises
Footsteps on a Journey gone Astray
- Yadwinder Singh
Footsteps on a Journey gone Astray



We Panjabis
Are a history lost through centuries
We are the scattered pages of 
a sacred book  
the aware, twinkling alphabet 
on pages flying in the wind
- Afzal Aihsan Randhawa, Panjab di War
 
Amandeep Sandhu’s book Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines is an attempt to collect these scattered pages of the sacred book called Panjab and contextualize them in a specific space and time. While he tries to get the pages in order, some of them continue to disrupt the order. The fact is: no one knows the correct order for these pages. While going through these disordered pages, the reader encounters various Panjabs playing hide-and-seek with each other and seeks a wicket gate to enter the book.  

While ordering the pages, Amandeep too struggles with these various Panjabs. The struggle opens with a twist presented through Satnam Jangalnama’s comment to Amandeep, ‘Panjab will test you and beguile you. It has forever beguiled its seekers. That is because those who seek to define it are often in haste. They want control. But Panjab rebels—it breaks definitions ascribed to it. Your journey here will be incomplete if it is not a journey towards your own self.’ Satnam’s prompt is that door through which a reader enters Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines.
Amandeep’s footprints mark the narrative of the Panjab that he depicts. Though the book includes Amandeep’s understanding of many layers of Panjab’s historical past; he travelled through this Panjab from 2015 to 2018. Amandeep’s sojourns are not like those of sociologists to collect facts or data on Panjab. In other words, this is not a book that seeks to find only one truth of Panjab where the subjectivity of the writer is absent. Following Satnam’s suggestion this book is also about Amandeep’s inward journey towards his own self.

Throughout the book, Amandeep struggles with his own relationship with Panjab. That is why this book cannot be read by basing oneself in a singular perspective. The need is to read this book, as Derrida says, ‘by reading between the lines.’

The Panjab embedded in Amandeep’s imagination does not align with the Panjab he experiences. The idea of Panjab he has inherited from his parents and Panjab’s current reality seem two different Panjabs to him. Amandeep registers this confusion in the very first page of his book which begins with lines of a song he heard at Baba Kala Mehar’s arena in March 2016. 

What you know of me, my dear, 
I am not that.

Amandeep believes that akin to what the narrator of these lines says, understanding Panjab is not as easy as it seems. Writing about this far-near relationship with Panjab, he 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 with Panjab.’ This struggle is not Amandeep’s alone, it is also the reader’s struggle who too finds himself in an insider-outsider dilemma with the book. 

If Satnam’s suggestion is one door to enter the book, Amandeep opens the other door upon the advice of photographer Satpal Danish. At his shop in Brahm Buta Akhara, while showing Amandeep some of his photographs, Danish says, ‘If you want to understand Panjab, be ready to count its corpses.’ The puzzle that Danish lays out is peeled layer by layer through the chapters of the book.
 
As the readers travel with Amandeep (in pic), they too sense that they are counting Panjab’s corpses. Each of the 16 chapters of the book places its finger on one or the other painful nerve of Panjab. Of course, what the chapters stand for in totality can only be learnt by fully reading them, but their headings also summarize them.
 
These headings are: 1. Satt—Wound, 2. Berukhi—Apathy, 3. Rosh—Anger, 4. Rog—Illness, 5. Astha—Faith, 6. Mardangi—Masculinity, 7. Dawa—Medicine, 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.

Just like the headings, the picture on the end-sheets of the book is a vivid portrayal of the subject of the book. This photograph is the creation of Danish’s camera. The photograph was taken in the second half of June 1984 when after Operation Blue Star, first time ordinary people were allowed entry into Darbar Sahib. In the photograph a few people have climbed the Ramgharia Bunga and are the first eyewitnesses of the havoc caused by Operation Blue Star.  The people seem like they are floating in a boat. In a symbolic manner, Amandeep calls the boat a ‘Naam da Jahaz‘ (reference Guru Nanak’s hymn) by riding which the people seek to find deliverance from their ocean of woes. 

Operation Blue Star is Panjab’s deluge which while unseen is present in the photograph. The Panjab that survived the deluge seems like it is now riding Noah’s Ark. But while Noah’s Ark had both men and women on it, this photograph has only men. In Panjab’s patriarchal discourse, the women are absent. Perhaps, we have no photograph that depicts the plight of women during this calamity. 

This photograph can also be compared to the Ship of Theseus. In ancient Greece, for long the Ship of Theseus was famous for its might and seaworthiness.  As time passed, the ship rusted and was confined to a museum. After many years, the ship was brought out, fitted with parts from other ships, and deployed for warfare. This led to the intellectuals debating if it was correct to still call it the Ship of Theseus? No doubt, the ship’s framework was the same as earlier but there were other parts that had now made it battle ready. 

The same question can also be asked about Panjab. After all, which is the real Panjab Amandeep seeks to find? Is it the Panjab of Amandeep’s imagination? The Panjab of historical valour, where five rivers flow, the one that feeds the nation, the one that is an island of greenery and prosperity in the ocean of India’s poverty? During his journeys, Amandeep encounters the other Panjab: the one that faces the brunt of the aftermath of the Green Revolution, the one that now commits suicide over the poverty caused by the Green Revolution; the one that borrows huge loans to somehow escape Panjab and seek their fortunes in foreign lands; the one that carries aloft the flags of masculinity and casteism but kneels down in front of the storms of drug abuse;or the one that in spite of all its efforts to forget 1947 and 1984, carries the ghosts of those calamities on its shoulders. Are these two Panjabs the same or - like the Ship of Theseus - Panjab too has been recast but it remains unaware of the changes? 

Amandeep’s book presents some reasons for his journeys through Panjab going astray. He looks at Panjab through the change in its character owing to its reorganization on linguistic basis in 1966 along with two major developments – the Green Revolution and the Khalistan movement.  Though the two developments seem different on the surface, there is a deeper connection between them. Both emerged from a belief that they will give Panjab a better future. For most Panjabis these were economic and political changes but in a symbolic sense these were the two boats on which the people rode to cross their oceans of woes but could not reach any landing shore.

The Green Revolution filled India’s stomachs but devastated Panjab’s indigenous natural methods of agriculture. The experts in agriculture and economists projected Panjab’s prosperity to such an extent that it was even represented in the region’s films and songs. The image of Panjab as the ‘food basket’ of the nation eclipsed the fact that its own waters had turned poisonous and land had become barren. Panjab that gave the message ‘Air is the guru, water is the father, and earth is the great mother of all’, ended up selling its own earth, water and air.
--------------
Publisher: Westland Publications (an Amazon company)
Pages: 584,   Price: Rs 899
Format: Hardcover in India, Paperback abroad, Kindle Worldwide
---------------
As the aftermath of the Green Revolution revealed its results, Panjab’s people sensed their sorrow but could not acknowledge their loss. They considered an acceptance of their defeat beneath their dignity. Owing to Panjab’s valorous past, its people considered death a better alternative to an acceptance of their defeat. Finally, in anger, they made a final charge which turned into the Khalistan movement. For Panjab this movement was a political attempt to turn the results of the Green Revolution in its favour. 

When towards the last decade of the 20th century these haphazard movements reached their culmination, it became difficult for Panjab to keep itself afloat on narratives of the Green Revolution and its valorous past. Panjab’s anger took an inward turn - directed at its own self. Psychologists say that when anger turns inward it becomes fear. Trapped in fear, Panjab found two paths: one goes towards suicides and drugs, the other goes abroad. Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines is an account of Panjab’s journey from anger towards fear and bewilderment.  
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Comparing Panjab with his mother on the death bed, Amandeep writes (I summarize): the two holes in Mama’s chest seem like Panjab’s two revolutions gone astray. Like my big-hearted Mama, Panjab too has never looked it its own ailments. It continues to fill India’s stomach. Its disease spreads like termites and one by one its organs shut down.

Yadwinder Singh teaches at Delhi University. This review originally appeared in Punjabi in the Punjabi Tribune, dated December 29, 2019

Harleen Kaur has translated the review into English.
 

Disclaimer : PunjabToday.in and other platforms of the Punjab Today group strive to include views and opinions from across the entire spectrum, but by no means do we agree with everything we publish. Our efforts and editorial choices consistently underscore our authors' right to the freedom of speech. However, it should be clear to all readers that individual authors are responsible for the information, ideas or opinions in their articles, and very often, these do not reflect the views of PunjabToday.in or other platforms of the group. Punjab Today does not assume any responsibility or liability for the views of authors whose work appears here.

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