Punjab Sindh Gujarat Maratha...

Punjab Sindh Gujarat Maratha... By Y S P Thorat Article published in Sakaal Marathi on July 17, 2022- This is the original English version* : Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat Maratha… Whoever writes the destiny of mortals - either deliberately or mischievously- intertwined the fate of my father, a passionate Maratha, with the‘land of five rivers' thereby binding us, his children, in a similar fashion. His seminal brush with Punjab happened in 1931 when his friend RK Nehru introduced him to a young Punjabi medical student at Lady Hardinge Medical College in Delhi. The meeting was fateful. The Maratha, smitten with love, lost a minor battle of Panipat. He proposed marriage only to be thwarted – not by the maiden - but by parents from both sides. Not one to give up, he and his fiancée - my mother - waited for 5 years before the obstacles were overcome and their wedding was celebrated in 1936. As a consequence of these occurrences, we, his children became heirs to two cultures by birth and to a multiplicity of traditions by upbringing. Taking the cue from our parents we too chose our partners. I shared these thoughts with my wife as the plane took off for Amritsar. She read for a while and then dozed off. My childhood had been spent in the north and its culture and traditions were imprinted deeply on me. Though the lingua franca at home was English, mother invariably conversed with us in Punjabi thus giving us the gift of the language and its idiom. As regards holidays, our‘dual citizenship' entailed Diwalis in Kolhapur and summer holidays in Kasauli - a charming hill station now in Himachal where my maternal grandfather, a leading lawyer of the High Court, had acquired a beautiful summer residence together with the hill on which it was built!! The family home, however, was a large rambling house in Amritsar which we visited from time to time. This idyllic state of affairs ended once I left for Mayo and after that, it was Maharashtra and the Marathi – Maratha - ethos that shaped me. So strong was this influence that as time passed, memories of childhood slowly faded. Thus, it was quite by chance that one day when Usha was away in Mumbai and I was surfing 'You Tube', the title of a Punjabi film caught my fancy. I played it on a whim not realizing that this would trigger the“forgotten half”to surface and put me on this flight. Usha stirred as the‘touch-down’was announced. Outside, green, yellow, blue, brown; the green of lush wheat fields, the yellow of mustard, the blue of nourishing rivers, and the brown of villages interspersed in between. The plane touched down. We located our cab. On the way to the hotel, the driver and I talked,“clicked" and on impulse, we booked him for the duration of our stay. 'Hukum deo Huzur' he said. What do you want to see? Darbar Saab, I replied. 'Wah ki gal kiti. Dil jeet leya Saab.' Then he looked at me quizzically trying to figure out why a non-Punjabi was in such a hurry to get to Darbar Saheb. But the question he asked was Where are you from? Maharashtra, I replied. He pondered over the reply and then said 'Thwadi gal kuch samaj nai aaye.' I replied in chaste Punjabi. “My mother was a Punjabi. I have come to visit her, honour her memory, and find myself”. His face lit up 'Baadshao, Chalo, hune chalo.' We cover our heads and enter. The temple is bathed in the light of the setting sun. Hundreds of pilgrims walk around, sit, and pray. Some are Sikhs, others clearly Hindus – Tamils, Maharashtrians, Bengalis, Assamese… all denominations. Despite the crowd, there is silence. Perhaps, hundreds of years of prayers have so sanctified the shrine that the mind is automatically driven to stillness and silence. Away from the stratosphere of politics, we are a people harmonious with diversity, thriving alongside each other, celebrating life, indifferent to whether the building in front is a temple, church, or gurudwara. Sounds of Gurubani -- the message of that gentle saint, Nanak -- waft in the breeze lifting our hearts in one breath to heaven, drawing out the pain from within us. Half a millennium ago, Nanak, in the tradition of the Buddha, taught “Nanak dukhiya sab sansar” Suffering characterizes life and then added, “Nanak, ‘naam’ jahaz hai” The way out is by ceaselessly remembering Him. I recall my mother explaining the substance of his message: The world is balanced by evil and good, pain and ecstasy, deprivation and bounty. Whatever is taken away is required to maintain the cosmic equilibrium and whatever is given to you fulfills an essential want”. And then my eyes are drawn to bullet holes in the wall – a stark reminder of the military operation that took place in 1984 on this holy ground. For an instant, the mind recoils from that memory. I understand the compulsions that drove Operation Bluestar but the heart bleeds at the hurt it must have caused the Sikhs -- the gentlest and happiest among our people. For a while, we sit side by side in silence wondering how to bridge the gap between an ideal state of being that we cannot attain and the ordinariness of daily existence we cannot live with. फ़र्श से मुतमइन नहीं, पस्त है ना-पसंद है ; अर्श बहुत बुलंद है, ज़ौक़-ए-नज़र को क्या करूँ ? The next day the driver insists we have breakfast at his place. We do and then walk to the Jallianwala Bagh. A guide materializes and leads us to the narrow ‘Historical Lane’ through which Dyer brought guns and troops to shoot at the innocent crowd that had assembled in the Bagh on 13th April 1919 - the day of the Baisakhi Mela. “There were no exit points” he explains “and in their panic people ran to the walls to escape or jumped into the well”. We walk to the bullet-ridden wall – a testimony to Dyer’s savagery and the horror unleashed here. I can’t believe that it actually happened; that a man could – coldly and with calculation - rain bullets and machine-gun fire at a gathering of defenseless people and then, before the Hunter Commission, have the gumption to say that he saw no wrong in what he had done. I also can’t understand a country that after his dismissal from the army glorified such a man and presented him with a purse of ten thousand pounds. While walking in the Bagh I experience mixed feelings. There is something eerie about the place. I shiver and draw the shawl tightly around me. 'What's wrong?' asks Usha? 'Nothing' I reply. The Bagh shapes a national memory and a national past. For officials and our leaders, 13th April is the moment to pay homage to the nation's freedom fighters and remember a commanding political event. For the people of Amritsar, however, it is an emotional reference point to express their cumulative pain. Perhaps it is time to map the dissonance between the people's narratives and academic histories and listen to those whose families were there on that fateful day or were subsequently humiliated. I too would like to testify that after the firing, when martial law was imposed in the city for six weeks, Indians were stripped, jailed, whipped, and made to crawl. On one of these days, my grandfather was returning home from court. His car was stopped at the corner of the lane leading to our family home and he was made to crawl at gunpoint till he reached the gate. Yes, I would like to testify - not only about the aftermath of the Jallianwala Bagh incident – but about the holocaust of the partition that Punjab faced head-on in 1947. India's partition ostensibly along religious lines is simply the most dramatic instance of post-war decolonization based on an arbitrary drawing of boundaries. The forced migration of an estimated fourteen and a half million people and the murder of perhaps two million innocent men, women, and children devastated subcontinental psyches. Painful memories of displacement and the horrific killing of kith and kin have left deep psychological scars which have still not healed. These traumatic memories have fuelled hostile relations between India and Pakistan, compounding the difficulties in resolving issues like Kashmir and the sharing of Himalayan River waters. Partition remains a defining moment that is neither the beginning nor the end and continues to influence how the peoples and states of postcolonial South Asia envisage their past, present, and future. Usha is strangely silent, almost withdrawn on the return journey to the airport. And then perhaps to lighten the mood she asks 'So, what does it mean to be a Maratha and a Punjabi – a kind of two-in-one ice cream?' It is an intriguing question but I have no ready answer. The Maratha within me is sure of who he is, where he has come from, and what he believes in. But what about my other half? Can I define my identity as a Punjabi similarly and in a way harmonious with my other self? Suddenly it seems to me that the resolution of the two identities within me is akin to – and reflects - the plurality within our society. I am a Maratha and a Punjabi because my parents met 90 years ago but do I know what other genetic linkages exist within me – and by that token, within each one of us? Is it important to define myself as a Maratha or a Punjabi or as a“human being”? Similarly, if at a societal level we can accept that many streams have flown through our body politic since the dawn of history will we not inch towards a more compassionate understanding of each other? Is that not why our constitution premises the unity and integrity of India on citizenship - on the fact that we were Indians not because we belong to a particular caste, creed, or region but because we were born in this hallowed land. And it was in this way that the answer I was seeking within myself came to me. I turned to Usha and said “The answer to your question is that I am a Maratha from the Deccan, and the Godavari and Krishna flow through me as do the Ravi, Sutlej, and the Beas; just as pithla and bhakri are part of my bloodstream so also are sarson da saag and makke di roti; just as “Har Har Mahadev” impels me to battle, so also does “Bole so Nihal …” The truth is that the only unwavering identity within me is that of an“Indian”. It is an identity that I am proud to carry with me -- in this life and thereafter. ****. **** *Shared by Usha Thorat


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