Monday, December 20, 2021

FAILING NANAK

Many years back when I last stopped at this rare Dhaba on Sultanpur Lodhi-Kapurthala road, it was operating as one joint. Now a partition in the front verandah indicates two shops. Brothers doing what it appears is the natural thing these days – getting divided.

As I wait for a cup of tea, I catch up on whatsapp messages. There are few messages in ‘Kisan Ekta’ group. This is a group that was formed by my village boys last year to discuss, inform and participate in the farmers movement. It also has been my portal into what does the rounds of social media in rural Punjab. Last night it was the clips of the person attempting sacrilege at Golden Temple, clips of gathered crowd banging on the doors of gurudwara committee baying for his blood and the bloody images of the dead body. There are a few new videos this morning. One is discussing a PIL that asks all pension and perks of politicians to be removed. Then a video starts with a young man beating someone whose hands and legs are tied. After a few seconds the camera turns to someone who starts speaking of how they have caught another person attempting sacrilege. He narrates the story, and the beating continues in the background. The sound of traffic passing by fades. The words of the speaker in the video fade. Only the ‘lathi’ in the hand of one who appears a young handsome turbaned boy swings and meets a young helpless tied young body. Over and over again.

Main us bare apshabad sunda haan,

Usdi pat rakhan layi,

Hathiyar chuk lainda haan,

Usdi pat meri muhtaaj nahin.

(I hear impolite words about him

To keep his honor

I take up arms

His honor doesn’t depend on me.)

The five minute long clip shows the tied man being brutally beaten as the speaker, the granthi of the Gurudwara, narrates how they caught this man early morning and how the ‘sangat’ should reach the place immediately, of how they will not hand over the person to police and of how the religious heads should come and give this man punishment as per religious code and conduct.

Usdi gall karan wale,

sareyan nu sunda haan,

Pujari vidwaan chele yodhe,

Bas ose nu hi nahi sunda.

(Those who talk about him

I listen to them all

Priests, scholars, followers, warriors

Only to him I don’t listen)

This clip is from somewhere in Kapurthala. A short distance away from where I sit and sip my tea. I check the local news. People have ‘listened’ to the call of the ‘priest’ and have gathered at the village of this incident. Police is there as well. The person is still in captivity of the ‘sangat.’  One key Kapurthala road is already blocked. I remember the roads all over Punjab getting blocked a few years back the day of another sacrilege and following police action. I pay for my tea and turn my car back towards home, towards Sultanpur Lodhi, towards Nanak’s town.

It was a day of celebration at Singhu. The sangat was organizing a Nagar Kirtan. The tractor-trolley-tent township was cleaned and decorated as best as possible and everyone was in a positive, cheerful mood. Few friends from Delhi had come that day. We were walking along the lanes of this place of resistance, a place of hope, a place of pilgrimage, when a young girl carrying a small poster with Sukhpal’s Main Te Nank passed by. I stopped her and asked her if she had read the poem on the poster. She said no. I requested her that she should, and I requested her father who was standing next to her that he should read this with her and explain and understand.

I wish I could hit a pause button over Punjab and like that little girl, ask all of them to read Sukhpal (if not Nanak).

The road runs parallel to the solitary train track between Kapurthala and Sultanpur Lodhi. Mostly local trains use this track, with an occasional Jammu Tavi. In 2019, on the occasion of 550th birth purab of Nanak, the one room railway station of Sultanpur Lodhi was renovated and a grand hall built. It played religious movies during the Gurupurab celebration. It was meant to be a reception area of the new station but time stands still in that empty hall now. A new train was started on the occasion from Sultanpur Lodhi to Delhi, aptly named Sarbat Da Bhala. The one time I travelled by it, it took 20 hours for a journey of 8 hours. I was told that it was an isolated incident, and that train usually was on time. In another four hours it will be the ‘right’ time for Sarbat da Bhala to cross from where I am right now. But from where I am right now, it seems Sarbat Da Bhala is now ‘forever delayed.’

Oh aap taan kuch vi nahin,

Na Musalmaan Na Hindu Na Sikh,

Main hi kuch banna jaroori samajhda haan.

(He himself is none

Not Muslim, Not Hindu, Not Sikh

But I think it is important to be one.)

I have driven about a mile when I see a familiar face standing by the road. I slow down and stop, and  reverse about ten meters, roll down the window and greet Bhullar Sahab.

A soft spoken, erudite, well reasoned and well seasoned card carrying communist. That is Balwinder Singh Bhullar. One of those associations made at the Kisan Morcha. It was an easy association to make from the very first meeting and fireside discussions at Singhu border early January 2021. He is district president of Kirti Kisan Union and a state committee executive member. I spent hours listening and debating communism with him. My notes from those long discussions with him only carry three points. “Since we want privatization, why don’t we privatise governance.” “Khanda saadi virasat hai, lal jhanda saadi siyasat hai.” “Communism is sarbat da bhala.” Despite the red blooded comrade that he is, he is easily likable.

Discussions with Bhullar sahab turned to debates many times, but reason never left the room (or the trolley in this case). The same wasn’t always true of the flag-carrying-stalwarts of the ‘right’ or the ‘panth’ there. One evening a day or two before the 26th January (the one that could have been!) I found myself among a few youngsters eager in their energy to ‘capture Delhi.’ My boring laments of sticking to what the SKM leaders decide and keeping the morcha non-violent proved a bit too much for one of the group. ‘Aida dadha rakheya, eh kaaton rakheya, sharam karo, Singh Bano.’

A surprised Bhullar sahab steps inside the car. His greeting is warm and his smile sincere and affectionate. He was waiting for a bus to go to Sultanpur Lodhi. It’s only a ten minute drive at my usual speed but with Bhullar sahab and an opportunity for news on SKM I drive slower. On enquiring how is rest and break after morcha, he replies like only a true red could. “Morcha khatam nahi hunda. Kisani Sangharash sampooran inquilab da ik pada si.’ For him the morcha is never ending, the fight an ongoing continuous endeavor. The distance goes by fast with Bhullar sahab. As we reach the bounds of Sultanpur Lodhi we cross Gurudwara Sant Ghat. This is where Nanak appeared three days after disappearing into Kali Veyin. The history board at the gurudwara says his first words after he reappeared were ‘na koi Hindu, na koi Muslim’. The question that no one asks, or answers is – did say he say there is a third?

Oh veyian vich dubda hai,

Khanabadosh ho janda hai

Main osdi bani da gutka fadda haan

Booha dho ke baih janda haan.

(He drowns in rivulets

Wanders from place to place, becomes omnipresent.

I hold the book of his hymns

And hide behind a closed door.)

‘What brings you to Sultanpur Lodhi?” I ask Bhullar sahab as I near the place where he has asked me to drop him. I should have guessed the answer. ‘Inquilab.’ He is here to deliver copies of December 21 issue of their magazine ‘Inquilabi Sada Raah.’ I ask for and get a copy. He walks away, on his continuous endeavor.

The link road to my village is next to Gurudwara Ber Saheb, the place where Nanak sat under a Ber tree and meditated on ‘His’ name for nearly 14 years. I navigate the Sunday crowd, greet those serving chai langar to passing traffic, and exit for the link road. The Darshani Deori to the Gurudwara is on the link road. As I cross, I glimpse at the white structure where we bow in Nanak’s name.

Usde aakheyan rab nu ek manda haan,

Rabb de bandeyan nu ek nahin samajhda,

Udaasiyan karan wale nu,

Main udaas kar ditta hai

(He says and I believe God is one

God’s creation mankind, I don’t treat as one

The unweary traveller of all directions

Is melancholy, worn down, with my actions.)

‘It has been a long wait for justice.’ ‘Hundreds of cases of desecration and sacrilege and no culprits have been punished.’ ‘It’s the system and government that has let us down, these deaths are their responsibility.’ ‘The system and government has failed us.’ The list of arguments and justifications is long.

I enter the last stretch of road before reaching home. Somewhere nearby the lathi swings, somewhere the swords are raised, and the jaikaras issued, the pitch and fervor reach a crescendo and a question goes unsaid, unheard - ‘Haven’t we all failed Nanak?’

Main usda Sikh hon di koshish karda haan,

Oh mere Nanak hon di udeek karda hai.

(I try to become his Sikh

He waits for me to be Nanak.)



(at Singhu - December 2020)



Saturday, December 11, 2021

HUMANS OF FARMERS MOVEMENT

Suresh Chand arrived at Ghazipur border on 26th November 2020. He hasn’t gone home since. It has been a long vigil.

A mattress and a blanket atop the main stage of the Ghazipur border tractor-trolley-tent township of resistance has been his home for almost 13 months. The stage has run all these days, somedays the line of speakers an endless stream and somedays a small trickle. Speakers changed daily, stage coordinators change regularly, even the stage itself changed a few times (from the initial open stage, to hurriedly put up tent, to a stronger wooden structure to this current permanent metal shed), but amidst all these changes Suresh Chand has been a constant. He got on this stage when he sat on a hunger strike. ‘After three days Tikait ji gave me a glass of milk and said, this is a long battle, don’t stay hungry.’ He accepted the milk and the responsibility that came with the call – this is a long battle. At the same place he sat in silence for 30 days. From the stage where speaker after speaker challenged an authoritarian and hostile regime with their words, Suresh Chand joined in his silence. The hunger strike and the silent protest made this stage his home. This is where he has lived for nearly 13 months. He became the caretaker of the stage, the shed and of this Ghazipur tractor-trolley-tent-township of resistance.

When I ask him to summarise his thirteen months experience here he says, niswarth sewa dekhi. He has taken this lesson of selfless service to his heart. ‘Ab to mann hai ke bas kisi gurudawre pe sewa karoon.’

During those days of hunger strike and silent protest, Baba Mohan Singh ji, who runs a langar here, tied turban on his head and presented him a portrait of Guru Nanak. Since that day Suresh Chand has made the turban a part of his self. Suresh Chand now sports a long flowing beard along with this turban (some even address him as Suresh Singh now).

A short distance away from the main stage, just outside the shed in front of the main stage a DJ is playing the songs of farmers revolution, where on this unlikeliest of Dance floor - NH-24 Delhi Meerut expressway, the unlikeliest group of dancers are showing that not only sewa, they have picked up some bhangra moves as well from their Punjabi brothers.

Last fifteen months the artists of the region, specifically Punjabi and Haryanvis have delivered songs on demand, fit for the day and occasion. From the calls to get ready ‘ailaan’ and march towards Delhi, to capturing the spirit of the march in farmers anthem, to songs of patshah and patience and sacrifice when the going got tough, to the victory songs of last few days.

Aun waali peerhi dendi rahu gi gawahi,

UP Haryana te Punjab tinen bhai

Barricadan utte rakh ke gulaab chaleya,

Ni tainu dilliye…. dilliye ni jittke Punjab chaleya.

More than winning Delhi, it’s the hearts from all over India and world that they have won that the generations will remember.

Suresh ji (Chand and Singh) asks me to sign in a register. This is his attempt at a record of who all came on this stage. Three thick registers, organized day wise. The header for today’s page says Day 379.

Any estimate on how many people visited Ghazipur border? I ask him.

‘There is no estimate. There is no state in India from where people didn’t come. They came from every state. UP Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, Uttarakhand – from here from every village. And a lot from Bihar, Assam, Kerala, others. And Australia, America as well. People came from far. Not possible to estimate how many people came here.’

From among these uncountable people a group set up a metal artwork, a martyr’s flame – but with plants, near the stage. In his simple words he shares a big lesson. “Paude to sab lagate hain, lekin sab paani nahi dete.’ A few days after the installation of the artwork he adopted the plants and like everything at this morcha these came under his care.

As I walked the length of this tractor-trolley-tent township this evening, amidst the skeletons of what were homes for over a year, with the tarpail covers removed and folded, with the bamboos and poles getting disassembled one by one, I looked for a souvenir. Something to take home – a physical remembrance.

It was still an incomplete mission, till I asked Suresh ji for a plant.

‘What will you do with it?’ he asks.

Carry the flame of morcha a little longer, till the plant lives, and maybe a bit longer. ‘morche ki nishani’, all I say.

‘Which one do you want?’ He asks.

‘Any’

He gives me the plant in the tricolor pot.

That’s what this movement have been. Caring for the tricolor, in a far truer way than we will ever know (and what the propagandists will never allow us to understand).

The first homes set-up here at the Ghazipur border were under the flyover. A place that will forever be known as Kisan Kranti Gate. Those were the roots from which this township sprang to spread along the service lanes and atop the expressway. One of the first tents to take root at one corner under the bridge was of Rajbir Singh Pehalwan. Nearly a year back, when I first met him he had said, ‘Bees saal pehalwani ki hai. Peeth nahi lagne di. Morche ki bhi nahi lagne denge. Kisan ke saath Sarkar ki jaayati nahi chalegi. Ye kale kanoon waapis honge tabhi lautenge.’

He has been associated with BKU from Baba Mahendar Tikait’s days. He loves to share the stories of his time with him. There is pride in his words and in his eyes whenever he talks of the past. With such roots, uprooting this township, was never easy – not without the blessings from these roots.

I ask Rajbir ji how he feels today.

‘Mehsoos ye ho raha hai ke Desh mein jeet ka danka baj chuka hai. Beimaan ki haar, aur imaandar ki jeet hamesha hoti hai. Hamesha….’

Does he feel like going back?

‘Nahi ji. Maza aa reha. Jai jawan Jai kisaan.’

‘Nakal haarti hai, asal kabhi nahi haarti,’ he concludes.

He has played his part. Over many decades. He hands over the baton of struggles to the pehalwans of current and coming generations. To keep his pride and to keep theirs. To be the real sons of soil, like he has been.

They leave for their homes now. But they leave behind lessons and legacy. Something we can take care of, and water and see the tree bloom. And even though we didn’t face the jets of water cannons against our bodies, or felt the force of tear gas shells, or had to tackle the iron barricades, concertina wires, concrete blocks, or cross dug up highways, or had to take the blows of lathi charge, or have the cars of arrogant ministers run over us, or spend over a year on roads under harshest the elements have to offer - rainy freezing winters, scorching summers, dust storms, or even see our homes of tents and trolleys burn in fire, or see 700 of our brothers/sisters die for a cause, or wonder about an apathetic citizenry around us, or deal with an inconsiderate and hostile government, or live away from family, friends and most importantly our life - our fields for over a year, we can be one with them. If we choose to take care of the lessons and the legacy, we can become one with all the humans of the farmers movement.

We can be one with Laadi Ismailpuriya who walked and served the morcha barefoot for 13 months.

We can be one with Gurpreet whose little daughter didn’t recognize him when he met her last week after 12 months.

We can be one with Ramesh devi, whose husband will not return, like the fathers/mothers/husbands/wives/sons/brothers/daughters/sisters of the families of the 700 plus martyrs.

We can be one with four sisters – Gurjaspreet (13), Prabhjot (11), Harmanat (7) and Harveer (6) – who helped their father for six months serving water and juice at the morcha.

Suresh ji says - “Paude to sab lagate hain, lekin sab paani nahi dete.’

They have planted the idea. It is for us to cherish it, to nourish it.

We can be one with the millions of stories that made this morcha possible.

It is for us to become a Human of the Farmers Movement.

***

Kab nikal rahe hain waapis, I ask Sureshji.

‘Sabko yahan se rawana karke. Usse pehle nahi.’

His has been a long vigil. It continues. For now.





FAILING NANAK

Many years back when I last stopped at this rare Dhaba on Sultanpur Lodhi-Kapurthala road, it was operating as one joint. Now a partition in...