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)