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Book Review

Sing The Wrath Of Punjab

A great narrative poem of a Jallianwala Bagh massacre survivor, and lost for long, is finally translated. It retains the cadences of this historical document.

Sing The Wrath Of Punjab
Sing The Wrath Of Punjab
outlookindia.com
2019-05-17T12:32:53+05:30

It’s a dramatic story by any standard. Nanak Singh, a virtually unl­ettered (“fourth grade pass or fifth grade fail”) Punjabi youth with a penchant for poetry lands up at Jallianwala Bagh with two friends on Vaisakhi day in 1919. While his two friends perish in the relentless firing by British troops under Brigadier-­General Dyer, he somehow survives and a year later produces a pamphlet with a long poem titled Khooni Vaisakhi, recounting not just the horrors of the massacre but its entire historical and political context. The British authorities ban it, confi­s­ca­ting and destroying almost all copies. Nanak Singh goes on to write many more books and attains fame and recognition as the foremost Punjabi novelist. Khooni Vaisakhi is all but forgotten.

But fate intervenes. A Punjabi academic, K.S. Gupta, finds a copy of the poem in a gunnysack of papers of his bibliophile grandfather and writes a literary paper on it. This comes to the attention of Nanak Singh’s son, Kulwant Singh, by now a leading Punjabi publisher, who loses no time in obtaining a copy. Another copy arr­ives courtesy an intervention by Giani Zail Singh, then Union home minister and a Nanak Singh fan. That is how the poem was rep­ublished in Punjabi in the early ’80s, six decades after it had first been published, banned and consigned to oblivion.

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