The second day of the Chandigarh Literature Festival began with going back in time, recalling the dark days of terrorism in Punjab in the ‘80s and the bloody aftermath that followed.
‘Roll of Honour’ by Amandeep Sandhu, was chosen by critic Nirupama Dutt, for according to her, it talks to the audience about a time and theme that many fiction writers choose to stay away from.
“So this novel takes up a tough theme and addresses a larger audience on the violence and an entire generation that lost its identity. This was the time when the seasons of wounds were harvested and it’s a violent book, which is witness to the times, which Amandeep owns,” said Dutt.
The process of translation
The book has now been translated into Punjabi by writer, Punjabi film-maker and activist Daljit Ami and ‘Gwah De Fanah Hon Ton Pehlan’ was released at the festival, with Amandeep and Daljit sharing the intense process of translation.
‘Roll of Honour’ is semi-autobiographical, set against the backdrop of militancy in Punjab. The book is set in Jasabad, a fictional town in Punjab.
Sandhu was 12 when militancy gripped the state. The author recalls how, directly and indirectly, violence and fear gripped everyone in the state, and says that no novel talks about the ‘80s, though there has been ample reportage and essays on the issue.
Spending days in lock-up for wearing a turban, facing police atrocities and ransom threats by terrorists, Sandhu says he grappled with the trauma for years, until he decided to write about it.
The novel, explains Sandhu, questions what has collapsed and what causes eruptions such as the Punjab militancy, Bhopal Gas Tragedy, Babri Masjid and even Godhra riots.
“I feel the book is mine, for both the text and my character has similarities and what’s more in the book there was a space for me to say more and also create more space for updating it,’’ adds Ami. Sandhu was at the Sainik School in Kapurthala and the novel talks about how students were divided on communal lines and violence and fear gripped everyone in the state.
“It’s a violent book, and he writes about sodomy, which adds to the theme of oppression and hierarchy,” shares Dutt. The translation in Punjabi was a dream, reflects Sandhu, adding how Ami, with his language, sensitivity and connect, is the only one who could do the tough task, with perfection.
Closure and catharsis
“There was a desire to speak to my own people and land, and finally the story has gone back home to its own people, in its own language,” adds Sandhu. The novel, adds Ami, talked to him, for it was a subject that he wanted to write about, but did not and could not. A witness to those times, Ami describes it as a shared experience. Ami agrees making the text sound original was a challenge, for in Punjabi there is nostandardisation of fonts and Punjabi publishers don’t have provision or orientation to support standardisation of visibility of text. “We lost our innocence in a day, and then were constantly looking for an identity. The tonal quality and conviction of the text was what made the translation so real, it provided an insight, closure and also a catharsis,” says Ami.
Ami further adds, “It all happened with many interactions and I did the translation in just five weeks. You travel with so much baggage, and this translation is almost as if I had a debt to pay, to my people. This text is everyone’s and Punjab’s violence should be seen as the entire world’s to learn from.”