Evoking pre-colonial consciousness: 70 years on, a dirge to innocent victims of Partition
A retired sociology professor turns to poetry in remembrance of those killed in 1947 riots and comes up with ‘Wandnama’, inspired by ‘Jangnama’ of Shah Mohammad, court poet of Maharaja Ranjit Singhpunjab Updated: Jul 27, 2017 09:25 IST
The most painful and emotional account of the first Anglo-Sikh war after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was penned by Punjabi poet Shah Mohammad (1780-1862) and is known as ‘Jangnama — Singhan te Firangian’.
Taking cue from it, Harvinder Singh Bhatti, former professor of sociology, Punjabi University, Patiala has brought out ‘Wandnama’, a long poem written in the style of the late poet that brings alive the travails of those innocent Punjabis who were killed or uprooted in the wake of the Partition.
“This book was simmering for long in my heart, but it took time to take a form. And perhaps it has rightly come out in the 70th year of the tragic divide and also in the context of today when once again communal vision seems to be blocking all else,” says Bhatti.
An activist with leftist leanings in his youth, Bhatti has been working on folk religions and music of Punjab, which was common to all faiths.
“My effort in research and writing has been to evoke the pre-colonial consciousness of the Punjabi soil that was eroded systematically, leading to extreme communal violence at the time of Partition,” he says.
The professor points out that the complexion of Punjab was very different in medieval times, with Muslim faqir Mian Mir laying the foundation stone of the Golden Temple in Amritsar and Mokham Chand, a Hindu by faith, being the distinguished general in the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
“This kind of a composite culture is hard to imagine in the present times,” he adds.
What made Bhatti, who was born post partition, to relate empathetically with the tragedy of 1947? “Although the divide had taken place some years before I was born, yet it was very much a part of my consciousness. Muslims constituted one-third population of my village Harion Khurd, near Samrala, and they all fled. I grew up hearing stories of the Muslim drummers who belonged to the Bharai caste, and eating mangoes from a tree that was planted by Gujjar Faqira. Some refugees from Jhang, the land of Heer, in Pakistan, came to the neighbouring village of Oorna as they were allotted land there. However, they were driven away because of feuds with locals,” he recounts.
He observed the plight of the refugees who had settled in large numbers in and around Patiala. Even after decades of living there, they are seen as outsiders by the native Patialvis and called ‘Bhapas’, in mockery of their brand of the Punjabi dialect.
The insider-outsider divide continues on both sides of the border even 70 years after the Radcliffe Line was drawn.
When asked how the dormant poet in him came alive, Bhatti replies: “I did write poems for the college magazine but I consciously chose Shah Mohammad’s style with its archaic words.”
Just for a flavour of 110 cantos that he has written in ‘Wandnama’: “Pehlan Rabb nu matha tekiye jee/ Jehrha khel avalarhe khelda jee/ Katthe baithian nu aap juda karke/ Pher mel achanki melda jee. (Let’s bow before the Creator/ Who plays strange games/ First he separates those sitting together/ Then suddenly reunites them).”
Bhatti, who post-retirement is adviser to the Research Centre for Punjabi Language Technology at the Punjabi University, hopes to bring out the book in Shahmukhi (Punjabi in Persian script), Devnagri and Roman scripts too.