From the first words, ‘Je ho ji tu samjhe mahiya, Oho ji main hain nahin’ ‘What you know of me, my dear, I am not that’, as the epigram to the last words 553 pages later, ‘However, like all communities painted into a corner, Panjab is a lot about not accepting how anyone understands it,’ Amandeep Sandhu’s ‘PANJAB – Journeys Through Fault Lines’ is an attempt, not the first, nor hopefully the last, but a sincere, detailed, timely and a significant one, at understanding the enigma that is Panjab.
Born and brought up outside the state, Sandhu’s journeys to fill a Panjab shaped hole in his heart, provide the reader with an understanding of much that is hidden of the stories of this land of rivers, green revolution, bhangra beats, langars, and perceived prosperity in general, and gives us a peak into what ails it - the agrarian distress, fast disappearing watertable, pesticide-insecticide made toxic lands, cancer trains, mounting farm debts, and farmer suicides, and walks us through its many fault lines - a society deeply divided on caste lines, people hurt at state apathy towards the grain bowl of the nation, a generation still not healed from the injuries from the dark decades, from blue star and 84, a generation caught in the trappings of drugs, and a generation leaving the shores to dollar-lands.
In the epilogue Sandhu writes, ‘Throughout its long history, Panjab has always been more than its geography and its people. It has symbolized an idea of resistance and rebellion. In the past, in spite of grievous wounds, Panjab has always risen and proved its critics wrong. I believe that someday this Panjab too will rise to its challenges – in its own eclectic way.’
Should Sandhu have undertaken his journeys and made this call of his Panjab much earlier? Because it appears that Panjab has heard him. It has risen.
The fault lines are being challenged.
As one ‘journeys’ through the tractor-trolley townships of resistance at Singhu and Tikri, one sees and hears a call of ‘Udhta Panjab nahi Padhta Panjab.’
As the tractors, overloaded with youngsters and their enthusiasm, march past, one doesn’t hear ‘guns’ or ‘ganglands’ or loud sound with meaningless words. The sound systems on these tractors now sing of glorious past, of heroes, of revolution.
Kisan is here in large numbers. Majdoor has arrived. Dalit is supporting Jutt. Kirti Kisan, Kisan Majdoor, show up on union flags together at every few steps. Kisan Majdoor ekta is the resounding slogan.
Bebe is here. Mutiyar is here. Out of the boundaries of home and communities, they are at frontline, their support, strength and voice are here.
Faith is here. Its rigidity a little fluid.
In the first edition of Trolley Times, battleground publication of Farmer’s movement, Tanveer tells a short story of two farmers – ‘My neighboring village is Bappiana, District Mansa. Two farmers from there have gone to Delhi. To the sit in. Their fields share a boundary. One of them has a chicken farm. They had a quarrel and are not on speaking terms. One of them has sued the other. This morning, the one who has filed the case says to the other - “here, brother, drink tea”. He sits near him. After a while of silence, he says - “Brother, first thing when I get back, I’m going to take back my lawsuit against you.” Delhi has lost. Both have won the battle.’
The fault lines in Panjab are real, with deep roots. But this awakening gives it hope. A hope that can be built upon to find a way out of the ‘depression that gnaws at it and erodes it.’
At the beginning of his journeys, a friend advised Sandhu to look beyond the windows and doors of Panjab and try to see which pillars still stand. Another friend said, ‘If you want to understand Panjab, be ready to count its corpses.’
Sandhu concludes, ‘Having walked through the fields filled with corpses to which Danish had pointed, having looked at its windows and doors, I had found that the only pillars that stood in the ruin of Panjab were its resistance to power and hegemony. That was, that is and that will always be Panjab.’
In this festival of resistance, the bodies are piling up. The list of the ‘martyrs’ of the movement continues to grow. And from their ashes new pillars are rising.
It is too early to say which direction this movement will take and where this movement will take Panjab and its people. But there is a new hope. Panjab rises – ‘in its own eclectic way.’
2020 – LOCKDOWN BOOKS REVOLUTION SERIES#3 - PANJAB - Journeys Through Fault Lines