Navtej Sarna brings alive the Crimson Spring of 1919

Published on Aug 13, 2022 07:36 PM IST

In Crimson Spring, diplomat-turned-author Navtej Sarna masterfully weaves an intricate tapestry, bringing to life the brutal butchering of hundreds of hapless men, women, and children at Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar on that fateful Baisakhi of 1919, which continues to haunt our collective consciousness despite the lapse of a century

Diplomat-turned-author Navtej Sarna with his latest book, Crimson Spring, at the UT Guest House in Chandigarh on Saturday. (Photo: Ravi Kumar/HT)
Diplomat-turned-author Navtej Sarna with his latest book, Crimson Spring, at the UT Guest House in Chandigarh on Saturday. (Photo: Ravi Kumar/HT)
ByAishwarya Khosla

In Crimson Spring, diplomat-turned-author Navtej Sarna masterfully weaves an intricate tapestry, bringing to life the brutal butchering of hundreds of hapless men, women, and children at Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar on that fateful Baisakhi of 1919, which continues to haunt our collective consciousness despite the lapse of a century.

The historical fiction, which was released at the UT Guest House, Sector 6, in Chandigarh on Saturday, is set against the backdrop of India’s freedom struggle, World War-I, and the Ghadar movement.

We see the events unfold through the eyes of nine characters — Indians and Britons, ordinary people and powerful officials, the innocent and the guilty, some fictional, and some real (Reginald Edward Harry Dyer, Michael Francis O’ Dwyer and Udham Singh).

Sarna says the first scribbling of the book was jotted around a decade ago. “I had been interested in the Punjab of the 20th century for a long time. Around five-to-six years before the centenary of the massacre, I decided to write a large novel, not in size but scope, enveloping the emerging historical trends before and after the Jallianwala Bagh carnage,” he says.

Ask him about the facelift given to the Bagh, which witnessed the execution of hundreds of unarmed people, and Sarna calls the move “rather disappointing”.

“We have lost the sombreness of the memorial. What should be tragic and raise gooseflesh is now too pretty. One should not want to snack and take selfies at a memorial. It should keep alive the memory of the tragedy,” he says, giving the example of the holocaust memorial set up in Auschwitz, where hundreds and thousands of Jews were killed in concentration camps.

On interesting historical nuggets found during his research, Sarna says, “We all refer to Reginald Edward Harry Dyer, the man behind the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, as General Dyer, when he was just a Colonel. At the time of the massacre, he was the temporary brigadier-general.”

An established author of fiction and non-fiction, Sarna’s work includes the novels, The Exile and We Weren’t Lovers Like That, a short story collection Winter Evenings, non-fiction works The Book of Nanak, Second Thoughts and Indians at Herod’s Gate, as well as two translations, Zafarnama (Guru Gobind Singh) and Savage Harvest (Mohinder Singh Sarna).

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