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Book explores Sikh-Abdali conflict, and faultlines within

The book, say the authors, wants to provoke a discussion on the ills plaguing the community.

punjab Updated: Jan 12, 2018 22:14 IST
Manraj Grewal Sharma
Manraj Grewal Sharma
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Ahmad Shah Abdali,When Abdali’s Palanquin Trembled,Book on Abdali
The book is penned by the brother-sister duo of Ajay Brar (right) and Navjot Kaur.(Keshav Singh/HT)

The sunlight yellow cover with a turbaned horse rider jumps at you. The title ‘When Abdali’s Palanquin Trembled: Making of the Sikh Raj’ is striking too. So is the intent of the book: to show the Sikh community its failings in the present against the backdrop of the glorious Misl period when they transformed themselves from roving bands of peasants into a fighting force.

Penned by the brother-sister duo of Ajay Brar and Navjot Kaur, it started off as a graphic novel. “I wanted to bring our history to life for youngsters,” explains Ajay, an engineering and management graduate. Eventually, a book seemed more appropriate, especially when his younger sister Navjot, who holds an MPhil in English, agreed to collaborate. Ajay provided the research, and Navjot the words.

The invasions of Afghan ruler Ahmad Shah Abdali are brought to life by an old man, ‘Dadaji’, narrating the tales to grandson Angad, 13. Then there is Gurnam, the software engineer from San Jose, home for a winter break. “Dadaji discusses the present with his nephew Gurnam and the past with Angad,” explains Ajay.

While the story flows on the right hand side, factoids and analysis are placed on the left. “We didn’t want to interrupt the narrative,” explains Navjot.

The siblings designed the cover, chose the paper, did the layout, and selected the font before publishing it under their homegrown ‘Quissa Publications’. Navjot, a communication skills trainer, still remembers the day she started it. “It was May 25, 2016,” she laughs, telling you how the first draft was the most difficult. They finalised the book late last year.

Ajay says it was quite a tightrope walk, given the subject. “We used quotes from Gurbani. I was apprehensive of being misunderstood,” says Ajay. That is probably why they make it clear in the preface that they are ‘Patit’ Sikhs (those with shorn hair). The book explores faultlines. “We’ve pointed out how if the Arya Samajis denigrated the gurus, the Sikh clergy also questioned the Vedas.”

Ajay says the book breaks myths. For one, Sikhs were against ‘kudimars’ (female infanticide). Jassa Singh Ramgarhia, the famous general, was excommunicated when it was found that his wife had killed their daughter. Though regarded as indiscriminate meat-eaters now, the Singhs were against cow slaughter.

At another point, Dadaji tells Angad how Kaura Mall, the ruler of Multan, was a Sehajdhari Sikh. And how the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee’s decision to allow only the baptised Sikhs to vote had isolated a large number of them.

Abdali too hasn’t been painted all black. “He was compassionate. Clemency was one of his positive traits though he didn’t show it to the Singhs,” says Ajay.

There is also some conjecturing. Dadaji, the protagonist, wonders if India’s history would have taken a different turn had the Marathas joined hands with the Singhs, and not been vanquished in the Third Battle of Panipat.

It’s not a please-all enterprise. For instance, the book raises questions about Master Tara Singh, highly regarded in the community, by citing his conflicting statements.

The book, say the authors, wants to provoke a discussion on the ills plaguing the community. On his part, Dadaji believes the community’s preoccupation with losing its identity and the trauma of 1984 is the problem. Ajay says, “We must stem the rot within. We must focus on education, health, and on developing our human capital.”

First Published: Jan 12, 2018 21:41 IST