Punjab 1919-2019: A Century of Violence
EL-1: Punjab 1919-2019: A Century of Violence
Venue: Savoy Writers Bar
Panelists: Navdeep Suri, Manreet Sodhi Someshwar
Moderator: Sanjeev Chopra
Date: 20 November 2020
The session, ‘Punjab 1919-2019: A Century of Violence’ with Navdeep Suri and Manreet
Sodhi Someshwar and the moderator, Dr. Sanjeev Copra, generated intriguing conversations
about the history of Punjab which is marred by violence. The two writers recounted their
experiences of confronting the past in this vibrant session. The memory of rupture and loss
continues to haunt and inhabit the intertwined personal and collective history.
Navdeep Suri describes the quest of recovering his grandfather, Nanak Singh’s Khooni
Vaishaki and reinstalling it into Indian literary history. Suri’s decision to translate his literary
inheritance from Punjabi to English was his way of dealing with the memory of a historical
tragedy. His negotiations between content and form concluded in pledging fidelity to both for the
sake of authenticity. He shares the thought process leading up to the coining of ‘postcards of
pain’ which had the potential to rhyme with many words like ‘vain’ and ‘rain’. The
Hindu-Muslim-Sikh unity in Pre-Independent India is illustrated in the celebration of Ram
Navami and the funeral processions following the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Suri notes how
this communal harmony took a disastrous and fatal reversal in the Post-Independent period. He
reiterates Nanak Singh’s question of whether the attainment of freedom was worth the loss of
Manreet Sodhi Someshwar’s The Radiance of a Thousand Suns is an exploration of 70
years of Post-Independent Indian history through the female gaze. The mythical past of the
Mahabharat provides the cultural underpinning to comprehend the contemporary history
narrated in the text. It reclaims the space for the stories of women who were othered from history
and located on the coordinates of silence and violence. The author describes the book as a
‘multi-generational family saga.’ Sodhi identifies the character of Nooran as an amalgamation of
the fearless women who were erased from history. She places Nooran as the moral compass of
the book. Nooran works on a tapestry which she inherited from her mother and later passes on to
Niki. The tapestry becomes a silent symbol of the negotiation of the trauma of violence through
the female lines of the family. Sodhi recommends Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan and G.
D. Khosla’s Stern Reckoning: A Survey of the Events Leading up to and Following the Partition
of India as books that captures the factual aspects of the Partition.
Khooni Vaishaki and The Radiance of a Thousand Suns are important interventions that
mediate the intergenerational processing of the continuing aspects of the memory of violence.
The discussion highlighted the necessity of remembrance and articulation. The writers enriched
the session by reading selected excerpts from their books. The continued effects of community
violence reflect in the individual lives of its citizens too.